Battle of the Bastards. David Ladderman.
Basement Theatre. 27th April – 4th May.
The NZ Comedy Festival is both a mecca for comics nationwide and an opportunity for audiences to sample a smorgasbord of the hottest hilarity around. Last week I chose David Ladderman’s “Battle of the Bastards” and he did not disappoint. This show is King Lear served in bite-sized pieces with lashings of spicy sauce (AKA wit) and some pretty impressive juggling skills to boot.
Condensing King Lear into a 55 minute comedy is no mean feat. Those who aren’t familiar with it… well, it’s something Ladderman constantly reminded the audience, “You don’t need to know”. He quickly filled us in and spent the majority of the time on Edmund, who plots to get his legitimate brother and father (an Earl) dead & gone so he can get all the money and cars and babes and that. Classic domestic drama, right?
Ladderman told all of this in record time with so many puns that it hurt and his audience goading was just the right vibe for the Festival. Even the look on my fellow audience members’ faces upon realisation it was Shakespeare-related didn’t escape his lightning quick reactions. There is nothing worse than wrapping Shakespeare in cotton wool and bowing down to worship at the shrine of The Bard – Ladderman not only avoided this, but his devil-may-care approach is exactly what changed those expressions and by the time it came to the obligatory audience participation, the chosen ones were delighted. It’s somewhat difficult to put into words exactly what happened (I am not even sure) – all I know is that he was hilarious. It was the “you all hate Shakespeare while I love it so let’s find a happy medium where we can all laugh at one another, laugh at Shakespeare and, most importantly, laugh at me!” that made it work so well.
Side note – there was a point where Ladderman indulged in some full-blown Shakespeare and it was the most brilliant interpretation of Edmund I have ever seen.
You may think it cavalier to treat Shakespeare in such an unceremonious way but this informal attitude is brilliance of it. Yes, Shakespeare wrote some incredibly poetic and sensitive stuff, but any copy of The Complete Works has more penis jokes than an all-boys high school. He wrote to entertain the masses.
Am I suggesting that every production of Shakespeare should be an offhand, self-referential piece of stand up? No… No I am most definitely not. But I applaud Ladderman’s courage and success in casting a new light on a story that’s been told again and again (and again). Let’s be honest, we all hate a museum piece of theatre. The theatre should be a living, breathing entity; a mirror reflecting those hiding the seats. Sometimes, you just need to laugh at what you see in the mirror. If you can, catch the show in Wellington next week. You won’t regret it.
Photo Credit: Luke Alexander