The Works of William Shakespeare (by Chicks)

(Harvest Rain Theatre)


by Leah Pellinkhof

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

Pro-am production

Cross-dressing and gender-bending at the conservative Harvest Rain Theatre, renowned for its family values and wholesome productions? Farts and up-chucks? Is this the end of civilisation as we know it?

It’s certainly the end of Shakespeare as we know him – or a very different take on him, at least, for the premise of this insane cabaret is that Shakespeare’s plays were written not by the Earl of Derby, or Rutland, or Southampton, or Essex. Neither were they written by Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh or even Ben Jonson, but by women. That’s right, they’re pure chick-lit, composed by luminaries like Good Queen Bess herself (all the Richard and Harry plays), Mary Queen of Scots ( Lady Macbeth ), Miss Frances Bacon, Catherine de Medici (all the Italian plays), Princess Sophie of Denmark ( Hamletta ), and Anne Hathaway ( A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew ).

This is where I wondered if we were in for a night of cringe rather than fringe theatre, for this is pro-am cabaret, after all, which is too often self-indulgent, unresearched and downright silly.

But I was won over from the opening scene, with five crazy women in front of their dressing-room mirrors wondering if they were going to be any good, having to be told that the audience had come in and that the show was starting, and rebelling at various stages against what the director required them to do. And when, after interval, they couldn’t believe that the audience had come back for more, they won me over completely

It was so funny, and so well done, that it deserves to become a cult show. From sending-up The Da Vinci Code with their discovery of Shakespeare’s own diary (recently found beneath the floor of the 20th reproduction of Shakespeare’s own Globe Theatre in London) to their wicked re-writing of the texts, it’s at least four laughs a minute, and I was astonished at the familiarity with the plays, which are not just the better-known tragedies, but some of the duller history plays like Henry VI, which is a dubious addition to the canon anyway.

How can you not love Macbeth with a John Howard accent pandering to his wife’s wishes to become queen; Scottish accents bad enough to frighten even Braveheart; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as Trude and Prue from Kath and Kim; and the girl from the Humpybong TAFE whose main pleasure in life is to pull the heads off Barbie dolls?

And what a cast! Bil Campbell Hurry is the self-important director who upstages everyone else (all she needs is the T-shirt I saw recently which says “Jesus loves everyone, but I’m his favourite”); Julie-Anna Evans can’t disguise her natural style beneath the ludicrous parts she has to play; Emily Gilhome is the cynical butch actor who tries to put everyone in their place and ends up gagged and tied to an office chair, from where she is pushed around like a useful prop; Nell Lee, the breathless anxious one, eager to please the director, is a comic delight; and everyone loved Sarah McCoy, the beautiful bimbo (Corinne Grant in disguise?) who wants to play all the important parts but doesn’t understand what’s going on.

The costumes are to die for, ranging from authentic stomachers to tired old bits of grubby sheets; and the production values are up to Harvest Rain’s usual high standard.

Bell Shakespeare it ain’t, but it’s a real hoot, and if you like your Romeo and Juliet played with Con the Fruiterer accents, you won’t be able to stop laughing. It’s a worthy foil to both the Brisbane Festival and the World Shakespeare Congress, so do yourself a favour, let your hair down and go and see these gels do the same.

It’s the perfect antidote to all the serious theatre we’ve been seeing recently. But hurry, because it finishes on August 5 – unless they extend the season by popular demand, as they ought to do if they have any sense.

Directed by Leah Pellinkhof

Assistant director and writer, Sean Pollard Playing until Saturday 5 August: Wednesday – Saturday at 7.30pm, Saturday matinee 2pm

Duration : 2 hours 15 minutes, one interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Tue 25th July 2006)