Lecturer in Shakespeare, University of Queensland
December 12, 2018
Now that I’ve finished my marking for the year at university, I’ve had time to reflect on the Curator’s wonderful The Third Beauty. Here are some thoughts. There were several key strengths of the production.
Firstly, the excellent use of theatrical space: each of the episodes framed the stories really well within and between the various ‘rooms’ of the Reservoir theatre. Some were structured as tableaux, some as processions and some felt like swirling contents of a cauldron. The idea of the three characters as the Weird Sisters from Macbeth was an effective unifying strategy. Here, the casting worked well – to have the three characters as different ages – the maiden, the mother and the crone – tapped into the ambiguity in Macbeth as to whether the weird sisters are just witches, or the three Fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. The Macbethian paradigm worked well as it seemed that from the cauldron spun the interwoven threads of the various speeches of female characters from across the plays. The performance thus presented the viewer with a significant mental challenge, one that tested the limits of your knowledge of Shakespeare as you followed the trails of the various intertexts.
The fragments integrated into an effective whole that wove a new story, one that built in intensity over the course of the performance. The costumes were dramatic, baroque and created a striking chiaroscuro effect, through the use of the ‘angels’ with their spotlights. I also thought the silver ball was highly effective, suggesting fate/fortune, a crystal ball of the future, and the ball of thread that Ariadne gives Theseus to find his way out of the labyrinth (a motif that again taps into the labyrinthine space of the theatre).
The performances were captivating and drew the viewers in to the worlds created by the mosaic of language. Above all, the production was a unique invitation to reimagine the texts of Shakespeare and see them from new perspectives. Congratulations to everyone involved in this project!
December 11, 2018
At the Spring Hill Reservoir tonight. It's been a long time since I've walked away from a theatre aloft a waft of joy. Just joyous... Shakespeare as extravagant, majestic, graceful, vulgar, delicate, mischievous, mysterious, sexy, coarse and sublime as you like. As I like. A celebration of the female. I laughed, I wept - when my breath was in my body still. The actors embodied the words and then let them fly - so open, free, connected to themselves and one another. I'm not sure what it took for the words to be at once so gloriously different from our own and yet so ours, now. If you did it Michael Beh then you'll have to get your reward in the hereafter, cos unless you get this on again, Brisbane has missed your finest hour. I cannot bear how close I came to missing it. It was like dreaming that you've flown - you wake up and it's still so real!I intend to post tomorrow, to thank the actors again, and tag them correctly. They were led, however, by the extraordinary Warwick Comber. Inspired to read all the plays again - you brought the words to glorious life.
I want to thank Warwick Comber, Patrick Shearer and Andrew Fraser for the generosity, freedom, release, extravagance, courage and tenderness of their portrayals of many of Shakespeare's women. I raved in general last night, and commended director Michael Beh, but now I want to be a little more specific. Barry Stone, when I asked him directly what keeps him attending performances across all the art forms, instantly replied that he is looking for beauty. And here, we found it. Cleopatra, Olivia, Ophelia, Portia, Lady Macbeth and Rosalind (two for each actor in this sub-list) were my particular shock moments of revelation, played with an utterly original energy, each one! Not to mention the new perspectives I gained into Gertrude, Margaret, and the most alight Hermia and Helena spat I've seen! Why did this happen? Because the actors were able to surrender to the text, to be in it with their minds and spirits, via, crucially, their fully engaged and committed bodies and voices - and they did this regardless of their own level of attainment technically, they immersed equally, and together. They transcended themselves, and gave us living people breathing and moving, speaking and singing within their stories.The evening was like being in a dream where a tapestry of these characters came to life - so that glorious combinations of words, ideas and wishes wove themselves into new forms, offering us "out of accustomed context" visits to these women in their vividly different worlds.
Michael Beh has the mind that chose our route, found counterpoint and conflict and collusion to surprise and delight. I have rarely seen womanhood so celebrated, and with such vivid empathetic imagination. The music was inspired, present, but not dominant - it echoed the impulses of the actors, following them, leading us - to each chamber of the reservoir. The 3 ensemble players who became dressers, shadows of other characters, observers, confidants, attendants of all degrees, bore up the threads with such discretion, taste, precision and delicacy, that I was sometimes shocked to see them in moments of deliberate focus - they rolled worlds and balls, shone lights, teased crowns and cloaks, completely living, completely giving to the scenes as they unfolded. The unabashed size and expansiveness of expression matched the mighty insights of Shakespeare time and time again. I wept, I giggled, I sighed. I understood how Shakespeare's contemporaries in his audiences might have been moved to speak along with his actors, dance and stomp to the beats and the tides of ideas and emotion. At the end I couldn't bear the sense of conclusion, danced, a trio of wo-men under feather fans, silver worlds rolling between the actors' softly treading feet.
December 13, 2018
Tonight I experienced the most intricate tapestry of Shakespeare’s iconic feminine moments, delicately layered and sublimely woven into a beautifully crafted work. The music of the language, strong powerful performances from the fine cast, sumptuous aesthetics and design, and brilliant adaptation and direction all came together to create unforgettable theatre. Heartiest congratulations to director Michael Beh on “The Third Beauty: Shakespeare’s Women.” This exciting and truly unique production runs for another two weeks.
October 6, 2018
Lovers of Shakespeare must see this masterful performance of the Bard at this world premiere by The Curators Theatre Company. Leave behind your perceptions of theatre and let your mind and body be immersed in this intimate and powerful reinterpretation of Shakespeare's writing with homage to the women in his works.
An opening procession greats the audience as we stand beneath the arches under the Spring Hill Reservoir building. Three beautifully frocked 'ladies' solemnly walk towards the 'centre stage'. We soon discover these are male actors with one towering at some 7ft complete with long flowing grey beard.
The audience is introduced to the many female Shakespearian characters from Ophelia to Lady Macbeth, Queen Margaret and Gertrude and Juliet with her immortal words for her Romeo. What follows is a truly amazing 75 minutes of intimate late-night theatre with Shakespeare's work portrayed at his very best.It is a wonderful mix and collision of Shakespeare and we are promised and delivered where "Ophelia runs amuck, Lady Macbeth goes head to head with Juliet, Queen Margaret and Gertrude out-queen each other, Rosalind hosts a dating game show between Viola and Olivia, Portia shoots from the hip, Titania turns Helena and Hermia into faerie slaves, Cleopatra reigns supreme and The Witches run rampant.The three leading actors - Warwick Comber, Andrew Fraser & Patrick Shearer with Director Michael Beh, bring the words of Shakespeare's Women to life with passion and meaning to every word and gesture. Warwick Comber in particular beings an astonishing performance of true empathy characters, complete with his flowing beard and towering stature.Third Beauty: Shakespeare's Women is an intimate performance as the audience follows the actors as they traverse under the arches.
Spring Hill Reservoir is the perfect backdrop for this amazing performance that has ethereal and spiritual undertones.The Third Beauty performances are on until October 20 as a late night showing following the earlier performance of Julius Caesar.Tickets are just $28 full price with concessions and discounts available and so exceptional value for this masterful portrayal of Shakespeare.
October 7, 2018
The deep and dark ‘rooms’ of the Spring Hill Reservoir make a fitting location for a mosaic of soliloquies, dialogues real and imagined, and complete mash-ups of speeches by some of Shakespeare’s most loved characters – all of them women. Macbeth’s three witches set the tone with their opening chant and lead us in to hear from Juliet, Queen Gertrude, the Nurse, Cleopatra, Desdemona and Lady Macbeth, to name but a few who contribute to the hurly burly of action. The only missing voice I expected, and who would have been right at home in the medley maze, was Queen Mab.
This production is staged by independent Brisbane theatre company, The Curators, who aim to bring new life to classical theatre. In the case of The Third Beauty, their production is presented as a late night pop-up theatre experience. Director, Michael Beh, has put together a delightful miscellany – and it is a treat to hear Shakespeare's language performed in the natural acoustic caves of the reservoir.
harkens back to the Elizabethan age when female characters were all performed by men. This is a cast of all-male leads – although I think it could also be playfully and vigorously staged with an all-female cast. The ‘Third Beauty’ plays on the concept of the ‘third sex’ where individuals are neither male nor female, but rather gender ambiguous – although, as ‘Blue Mage’ dressed in a blousey blue satin frock, sporting impressive facial and head hair, Warwick Comber as over-the-top Italian ‘Juliet’s Nurse’ is more reminiscent of TV’s Aunty Jack than perhaps he or Shakespeare would have liked. Comber compensates with his other characters including a wonderfully magisterial Titania and suitably dramatic Cleopatra. As ‘Gold Mage’ Andrew Fraser captures Lady Capulet’s tough streak and nails Lady Macbeth’s conviction. As ‘Pink Mage’ Patrick Shearer tackles the more delicate of Shakespeare’s creatures with a fine filigree of emotional pieces: Juliet, Portia, Desdemona and Ophelia. All three performers add finesse and much humour – this is Shakespeare after all – to their portrayals of the moon-driven madness of their female avatars.
A surprise element that added enjoyment was having props, sets and costumes handled by onstage ‘angels’ – played by Gene Banyard, Laura Bissell and Cullen Trotter – who, like little Gothic elves, could be found creeping around the rooms or sneaking behind someone in the audience before shining a spotlight on one of the lead characters, or showering them with glittering confetti.
Audience members with a good knowledge of Shakespeare’s grande dames will possibly gain more from the production than those with just a passing glance at the characters and their contexts. However, even a complete Shakespeare novice will thoroughly enjoy the energetic performances and the experience in such a unique setting.
October 8, 2018
Shakespeare’s work includes many wonderful female monologues—spanning the comedies, tragedies and histories. As the plays were originally performed by all male casts, the staging of these roles by male actors provokes a reconsideration of the works, and can prove popular with modern audiences (as seen in Mark Rylance’s successful all-male casting of Twelfth Night).
The Third Beauty: Shakespeare's Women is an interesting concoction of female monologues, extracted from several of Shakespeare’s plays. The lines were all written by Shakespeare, but then ‘mashed up’ by Michael Beh, creating an opportunity for Warwick Comber (Blue Mage), Andrew Fraser (Gold Mage), and Patrick Shearer (Pink Mage) to demonstrate their versatility, and to savour the opportunity to perform extracts from several major roles. During the 70-minute performance, the Spring Hill Reservoir audience were treated to the words of Gertrude, Juliet, Hermia, Viola Olivia, Ophelia, Titania Cleopatra, Queen Margaret, Portia, Miranda, Desdemona, Helena, Rosalind, Beatrice, Nurse, Lady Macbeth, and the Three Witches.
The show opens with the entry of all six performers, in an incense-infused, lace-covered ‘funeral procession.’ As the lace is drawn back, the cast can be seen in their gothic finery: three magicians (each of the three main performers is named a ‘Mage’) accompanied by three ‘Angels.’ The Angels (Gene Banyard, Laura Bissell, and Cullen Trotter) are an important part of the staging of the show. Dressed in black, they move wordlessly around the space in a carefully-choreographed performance that is a mixture of stagehand, prop manager, lighting assistant and dresser. In contrast with the beautiful black gothic costumes of the Angels, the three ‘Mages’ emerge from the black veil in sumptuous, colour-coded Jacobean finery (congratulations to Jan Mandrusiak, ‘costume co-designer & realiser’). During the show, the Mages gradually disrobe, peeling away the layers: first to matching trousers and later removing corsets to show their lighter ‘undergarments.’
Following an initial, whirling frenzy of exchanges—where roles are thrown between the Mages and into the air—the performers promenade through the space, enacting the different texts. The pared-back staging (occasional raised platforms and chairs) includes the use of white feather fans, and balls, but emphasis is on the actors. Many of the early speeches appear to be demonstrations of ability, developing into much more of a competitive exchange or ‘duelling’ between the artists. Although often more frenzied, the ‘duelling’ delivers an intensity which contrasted with some lines which, I felt, occasionally missed the context of the play that they were extracted from.
The Third Beauty: Shakespeare's Women is clearly a work of love from Michael Beh—who not only adapted Shakespeare’s text to create the work, but is also credited with production design, and as producing director. The Spring Hill Reservoir is a good choice for the promenade production, offering great acoustics and a chance for the audience to be very close to the performers. Beh surrounded himself with a great creative team: excellent costume, sound design (Peter Crees), and lighting design (Jason Harding, rigger credit). The music was great, and the lighting of the reservoir worked really well—both on arrival and also throughout the show in the hands of the three ‘angels’ (although I’d have preferred not to have had the distracting flashing of lights during the excellent Juliet speech).
The Curator's website describes a vision of connecting independent, professional artists to “bring classical theatre to new life.” The production certainly created an opportunity for emerging and established artists to work together in a celebration of their shared love of Shakespeare. Shearer, described by The Curator’s as an ‘emerging artist,’ relished the variety of roles (a highlight for me being Portia’s ‘quality of mercy’ speech). Fraser was superb as Lady Macbeth, and Comber gave a compelling and dominant performance in his many monologues. Just occasionally perhaps, a little more ’delicacy in their application’ might have been needed for some of the speeches (for example, there too much emphasis on the articulation or accenting of the text—such as Comber’s rolling of the Scottish rrrr’s). But each of the Mages more-than demonstrated what they are capable of, leaving me wanting to see more work by each of the actors (and definitely wanting to see Comber as King Lear).
Shearer’s Juliet commented, toward the end of the piece, ”we know what we are, but know not what we may be.” I came away from the performance certain that, although enjoy modern staging and contemporary interpretations, I prefer my Shakespeare plays as originally written—that is, complete. However, I’m glad I saw this production. The Third Beauty: Shakespeare's Women encourages reflection on the beauty of the spoken word, and on issues of gender fluidity, as the artists move from their feminine gothic finery to a reveal of their inner-selves.
There is certainly the possibility of engaging in ‘spot the play,’ if you know your Shakespearian texts. But a knowledge of Shakespeare’s works is no prerequisite. Go with an open mind—for a chance to hear extracts from many popular Shakespearean texts, performed by those who love the spoken word, in the fabulous acoustics of the Spring Hill Reservoir space. An opportunity to reflect on the beauty of the words, and also on the nature of beauty itself.
October 8, 2018
Impressively staged and well performed, fans of the The Bard should enjoy it immensely and newcomers may find some things familiar given Shakespeare’s impact on culture.
heartBeast Theatre kick things off with a rendering of ‘Julius Caesar’. Down in the old stonewall caverns of the reservoir, audience members are free to roam and follow the action how they wish with actors and lights appearing everywhere. The setting dark and labyrinth proves perfect for a story set in ancient times following a plot to murder. It’s almost as much fun to look around corners for would-be assailants but the performances prove too riveting.
The story of 'Julius Caesar' belongs not to the titular character but to Brutus and Brent Schon, giving him depth and revealing how tragic a figure he is. Often cast as a colourful side character, Schon proves his mettle in a dialled down, nuanced and ultimately sympathetic performance. He is ably matched by the ensemble including Chris Vaag nailing the famous “Romans lend me your ears” moment and Lisa Hickey gives a great turn as the manipulative Cassius.
The allusions to our times with mob mentality, manipulation of the truth in the press and narratives we create for ourselves are played up nicely. The lighting throughout is on point, the actors' faces bathed in shadow as their moods darken and drum beats ring out in the dark portending doom. It’s an impressive, immersive and involving take on a classic right here in Brisbane.
The Curators follow with ‘The Third Beauty: Shakespeare’s Women’ which, rather than being a straight up adaptation of one of the classic plays, is a bold re-visioning of his female characters all performed by male actors. ‘The Third Beauty’ requires more knowledge of Shakespeare to perhaps best enjoy but the performers prove fearless and just as engaging.
The leads make us laugh when they’re being funny and make us feel touched when they’re sad but it can be a bit difficult sometimes to keep up with what is going on. As the characters’ vulnerability and shared camaraderie grows, though, so too does your admiration for the actors. The staging of this show makes use of the way shadows play on the wall, featuring more playful modern touches and impressive costumes.
Both plays choosing to have the actors move among the audience and have no fixed area was an ambitious undertaking that has paid off, you couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. A unique and fascinating night out at the theatre.