Comical take on Shakespeare

02:24, Dec 11 2012

Shakespeare, but not as we know it, is one reviewer's summary of Battle of the Bastards, a show created by Christchurch-based performer David Ladderman.

On Friday, he will bring the one-man show to Blenheim.

It is described as a "bawdy, irreverent take" on the Gloucester family in Shakespeare's King Lear.

Anyone who saw Ladderman perform in two circus-musical shows last year with the Lyttelton-based Loons Theatre Company might be surprised at his love for Shakespeare. But he dismisses the popular belief that the 16th-century Bard's work is highbrow or boring.

"It's not that different to circus," Ladderman says.

Shakespeare's characters used colloquial language and the original crowds who turned out to see his three-hour shows did not find them reverent. In fact, the passions and excitement generated by his stories resulted in little jigs being performed immediately after each show, to help "quieten" audiences down before they went back out on the streets.


Battle of the Bastards is Ladderman's attempt at giving modern audiences a new take on Shakespeare.

It includes a narrator, who pops in and out between scenes, ensuring people are kept up to date with what the last scene was about. Ladderman plays narrator, father, son and brother.

The characters are the Gloucesters, a good-but-misguided father and his two sons, good son Edgar and the bastard Edmond who, through evil tricks and schemes, conspires to ruin everyone.

Ladderman's partner, fellow actor and Shakespeare performer Lizzie Tollemache is the producer. She says Friday's Blenheim show is a forerunner to performances in April and May in the 2013 International Comedy Festival.

After that, she and Ladderman will take it to summer arts festivals in Canada.

Tollemache says too many people put Shakespeare's works on a pedestal and perform the ancient scripts as if they were sacred or holy. That was not how they were originally written, she said.

"Now that is starting to change and now people are performing it in their own voice . . . as if they are just speaking. And people feel OK about editing it."

The former Marlborough Girls' College student left Blenheim in 2007 when she was accepted into the New Zealand Young Shakespeare Company. It attended workshops and performances at London's Globe Theatre, a modern version of the theatre where Shakespeare's works were originally performed. It is committed to keeping the spirit of his works alive and tutors help students unravel weird, sexual references and naughty meanings woven into the scripts, Tollemache says.

Battle of the Bastards is a slice of Shakespeare's original King Lear story, featuring a giant battle, sword fights and eye gouging.

"And it's incredibly funny," Tollemache promises.

"People who like Shakespeare love the show, and people who hate Shakespeare love it even more."

Battle of the Bastards starts at 8pm on Friday, December 14, in the Boathouse Theatre, Blenheim. Tickets $20 adults, $15.50 students and senior citizens.

The Marlborough Express