All’s well that ends well: Shakespeare’s Romances as restoratives

Thou met’st with things dying,
I with things newborn.
Old Shepherd, The Winter’s Tale (III.3)

Of the four genres that Shakespeare’s plays can be broken into, it is the final group that is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood. Yet it is this very same group that perhaps holds the keys to unlocking the humanism at the heart of Shakespeare’s oeuvre. These four plays, the ‘Romances’ – comprising Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest – are generally believed to have been written between 1608 and 1612. When viewed together, they form a valediction to one of the most consistently human and moving bodies of work in the modern-English literature canon, and are characterised by their almost fairytale-like plots and structures, and almost-absurdly contrived turns of events that carry them from one incredible scene to the next. Read as a progressive series of Chinese boxes, this quartet (or quintet, as I shall suggest) forms a coda to the plays, poems and sonnets that have come before them. There is a restoration of balance at their heart, a distinct sense of regaining an inherent aesthetic equilibrium, one that sets out to right wrongs; like Prospero at the conclusion of The Tempest, they seem to be asking readers and audiences alike, “As you from crimes would pardon’d be, Let your indulgence set me free.”


2013, the verdict


Event(s) of the Year
Peter Pan; Forget Me Not – Belvoir
Henry 4 Bell Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice – Sydney Shakespeare Company
Songs with Orchestra – Lior & Nigel Westlake, with Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Honourable Mention
Angels in America – Belvoir
Rust and BoneGriffin
BushpigBagabus inc (part of Sydney Fringe Festival)
Top Girls – New Theatre

Best (New) Play
Forget Me Not, Tom Holloway
Hinterland, Jane Bodie

The Flat Award
PhédreBell Shakespeare
Persona – Belvoir
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Bell Shakespeare
Hamlet (with Toby Schmitz) – Belvoir
The Almost Award
Jerusalem – New Theatre
Return to EarthGriffin

The ‘Love Me Tender’ Award
Small and Tired – Belvoir

The Game-Changer


The Playlist: 2013 at the theatre

If you've followed my blog or read any of the theatre reviews throughout this year, you might have seen – at the bottom of the page – a song, numbered from 1 to 39. They form what I call ‘The Playlist,’ the idea being to find a piece of music that encapsulates either the production or my response to it (or sometimes both). Some selections may differ from those posted in the reviews; if so, it’s only because of a further reflection upon the production on my part. So here, altogether for the first time, is The Playlist for 2013.


This is now: Belvoir’s Coranderrk

A man walks onto a blank stage, a possum-skin cloak wrapped around his slight body. His hair and beard frame his face. He speaks, first to the space, then to us. And with a simple gesture, a few chairs, and the drop of a screen, we are in a Victorian parliamentary enquiry from 130-odd years ago. Yet we’re in a small theatre in Surry Hills, watching an important (albeit unapologetically forgotten) piece of our nation’s indigenous history presented to us by indigenous actors; it is their own story as much as the people of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve on the 1880s. Drawn from the official transcript of minutes from the enquiry, Coranderrk is more than just a re-enactment or a piece of verbatim theatre; it’s a story about people, about the land – their land, and about a collective dreaming, a connection that you cannot replace. It’s about belonging, about home. It’s a story that takes place in the 1880s while simultaneously occurring here, now; today.
Originally performed in 2011 by Melbourne-based indigenous theatre company ILBIJERRI, in a piece comprised entirely of official transcripts, it was presented in 2012 at the Sydney Opera House, before being presented with Belvoir in its current incarnation. What is alarming, though, is how similar many of the attitudes of the white European people depicted in the piece are to the current way of thinking; how little things have changed in a century and a half, in over two hundred years of white settlement in Australia. What Coranderrk gives us, is a glimpse into how it could be, how it should be.


A game of thrones: RSC’s Richard II – Live in Cinemas

It will come as no surprise to many that I am quite the fan of Shakespeare. I’m also quite the fan of David Tennant, both as the Doctor and out of it. So when the Royal Shakespeare Company announced plans to broadcast their production of Richard II, I leapt at the chance. While there is no substitute for sitting in a darkened theatre with 1500 others, seeing it in a cinema with two dozen others is perhaps the next best thing.
The first play in Shakespeare’s History cycle, Richard II dramatizes the last months of the monarch’s reign, from 1398 – 1399, and begins, historically speaking at least, at “one minute to midnight.” Grounded in a very medieval world of godliness and saintliness, righteousness and morality, Shakespeare’s play is not to be mistaken for ‘capital-H’ history; while they are relatively faithful in terms of the progression of their events, Shakespeare’s History plays are instead dramatic analogies for the socio-political climate of Elizabethan England (dealing with issues of succession, rebellion, and wise counsel) and are structured in a way, reminiscent of medieval mystery plays with their clear-cut vices and villains, heroes and everymen.