By Laura Heuston
Beer, burns, and blackouts. The Shakesbeer Sessions presents to its bar goers a Shakespeare that is as close to a groundling ticket as you can get outside of Pop Up or actual Globe. Except we get to sit for this.
Happily crowded into the dining room of the Shakespeare Hotel, with no stage or set in sight, the actors proceed to leap around the middle aisle of the room, interacting with everyone in sight, especially a couple of lucky members who actually get lines in the play. While in layout its nothing like Globe, the feel of being up close and personal, and the funniest lines being delivered right to individuals is potentially even more intense. There’s also the element of being able to move about whenever you like, in fact getting drinks during the show is actively encouraged- the actors will just move around you. This relaxed atmosphere sets the scene for the Aussie improvisations that pepper the Shakespearean dialogue, along with a colourful assortment of curses and classic rock songs, showcasing some simply terrific voices and harmonies! I’ll never complain when someone busts out Africa, especially when it sounds as great as it did coming from these guys and special mention must go to Rory O’Keeffe (Conrad / Frior) for playing the guitar, at one point blindfolded!
There wasn’t a weak actor on the stage/dining room, but a few warrant special mention. Directors Haxby and Chris Huntly-Turner (whose mother was in the audience, hilariously) take the leads as Don Pedro and Benedick, with Huntly-Turner especially delighting the audience with this physicality and boundless energy. He captures the humor of the melodrama in the text, as well as the sobriety when necessary. He meets his match wonderfully with Shannon Ryan as Beatrice who manages to be statuesque but casual, and mocks Huntly-Turner with a charming condescension that never fails to elicit sexual tension. Asalemo Tofete shines comedically as Don John and Verges and Margaret, sassing the audience and everyone around him in spectacular fashion, in particular as the ditzy and zanily sexual Margaret. Chelsea Zeller (Hero / Dogberry) matches his wildness as members of the “Responsible Service of A*seholes”, The Watch in the text, who are utterly incompetent but and yet manage to solve all the problems! Shakespeare comedies!
Bar’d Work are demonstrating, in terrific fashion, that it doesn’t take a complete upheaval of these plays for them to be fantastically accessible for a modern audience. The modern additions and improvisations were great, but most of the humor came straight from a great play being delivered by skilled actors who knew what made it funny and how to communicate that. The audience was in stitches from start to finish, and most of those I spoke to were not overly familiar with the Bard prior. I would thoroughly recommend this for people who haven’t engaged with Shakespeare that much- in the hands of these guys, he might just surprise you.
Photo Credit: Laura Heuston
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.