Review: Shakespeare Pick and (re)Mix (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Angus Thorburn, Leah Fitzgerald-Quinn, Rebekah Schmidt, Dudley Powell & Rob Pensalfini. Image supplied by Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble.

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble brought their trademark energy and enthusiasm to EC Venue for Shakespeare Pick and (re)Mix, part of the inaugural Fringe Brisbane programme, with hilarious results. Following a successful season at Anywhere Festival earlier in the year, QSE continues to turn tragedies into comedy with their fast and funny Shakespeare’s Shorts, allowing the audience to choose which story take the stage.

As the audience entered the space, they were greeted by QSE actors encouraging them to vote for one of the three plays – Half Hour Hamlet, Instant Romeo & Juliet, or Express Macbeth. Once everyone was seated, the QSE actors also had 30 seconds to pitch their preferred work to the audience before a vote (counted by volume and vigour of cheers and applause) was cast.

On the evening I attended, Half Hour Hamlet had the winning vote, largely thanks to a Fresh Prince of Bel Air-inspired rap delivered by Rebekah Schmidt. While the cast quickly made preparations, members of the audience were recruited as players, impromptu makeup artists, and rehearsed sound effects.

The performance maintained Shakespeare’s classical language but added melodrama, slapstick, and exaggerated characterisations to tell the story with clarity and plenty of comedy. Prince Hamlet of Denmark encounters the ghost of his father, which instructs him to avenge his death by killing the new king, Hamlet’s uncle, who murdered him and married his wife to claim the throne. Hamlet feigns madness, contemplates life and death, and seeks revenge – along the way, he bewilders his love interest Ophelia, accidentally kills her father, and is briefly captured by pirates, among other things.

Applause and calls for an encore initiated a second and third rendition of the play, each quicker and more chaotic than the last, returning to key touchpoints in the previous versions to speed through without any confusion. All this action was bookended by a catchy song, with Liliana Macarone playing guitar, that is still stuck in my head a week later.

Shakespeare Pick and (re)Mix featured 6 actors from the QSE ensemble – Angus Thorburn, Rebecca Murphy, Leah Fitzgerald-Quinn, Dudley Powell, Liliana Macarone and Rebekah Schmidt – in a range of roles, all bringing high energy and strong comedic timing to the performance. Costuming was layered and characters were marked by specific accessories, which became increasingly important as the changes became quicker.

There was some occasional outside noise in the space, but this is a recurring issue with the venue and the actors could still be clearly heard at all times. A simple set piece with a central curtain served as both the backdrop and backstage and a range of props and accessories were changed over quickly. At one point later in the performance, the set began to collapse, but the actors took it all in their stride and Dudley Powell held that section upright for the remainder of the show.

Ghosts, kings, swordplay, fake moustaches, and dramatic philosophising, all wrapped up in under an hour– Shakespeare Pick and (re)Mix combined music and mayhem with the considerable skill of the QSE actors to deliver bite-sized Shakespeare that was highly accessible and enjoyable.

Shakespeare Pick and (re)Mix will play at EC Venue, Fortitude Valley, on 14 & 21 October 2022

For ticketing and further information, visit the Fringe Brisbane website

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