BWW REVIEW: SUPERHAL Combines Shakespeare And ComicCon In An Effort To Connect With A Younger Audience
Wednesday 8th March 2017, 7:30pm, NIDA Parade Theatre
John Galea merges three of Shakespeare's tetralogy, focusing on the life of Henry, Prince of Wales, better known as Prince Hal and Later King Henry V, to create SUPERHAL, a blending of Medieval England and contemporary superheros and mythical characters. Two seemingly disparate worlds collide as a Shakespeare combines with ComicCon in an endeavor to engage a younger audience.
Whilst the promotional material holds great promise for the work and appears to be a wonderful way to introduce Shakespeare to a generation that is captivated with superheros, mythical medieval warriors, apocalyptic survivors, Japanese animation and science fiction, this production appears less that fully formed. SUPERHAL combines Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V, bringing together King Henry IV's party, The Rebels, Falstaff's Eastcheap reprobates and The French. Whilst Galea's set of geometric sandstone stacks merges a medieval world with a futuristic idea for a clean image, the clarity of the crossover ends there.
The merger with the pop-culture characters does not really align with these groups very clearly as there is an abundance of black leather without sufficient differentiation to clarify the affiliations. The collection of costumes makes the work seem more like the leftovers from a ComicCon gathering than a considered design. There are also obscure inclusions are unfortunately assigned to the women of the cast. Whilst its good that Galea has converted some of the male roles like the Earl of Westmoreland, Earl of Wrocester, Poins and Fluellen, there is however perpetuation of the problem with sexualisation of women rather than taking the opportunity to present a stronger image. Elissa Hughes (costume designer) has chosen to present Catherine Davies' Earl of Westmorland in an unusual roman centurion helmet, corset and short skirt and gladiator sandals, which, paired with Galea's direction of Westmorland as a scampering servant, does little to show this character as having any strength. Hughes has opted to dress Emily Weare's Mistress Quickly in a white PVC anime skirt and white boots which creates the message that she's more vapid that she could be as a hostess of the tavern frequented by Falstaff and his minions. Additionally, Amanda Maple-Brown's inexplicable costume which is possibly a bird, seems like just taking the opportunity to put another of the female characters in a body-con costume with feathered 'tutu'. Thankfully Emily Elise's Poins and Jane Bergeron's Worcester and Fluellen are given a strength and contemporary confidence.
Galea has kept the original text, cutting back to merge the three plays into a 3 hour performance without adding additional lines to capture transitions. The condensed storyline works reasonable well, if still a little long for a work pitched at students and some scenes, particularly Katherine and Alice's English lesson and King Henry V (Hal) and Katherine's courtship, could be reduced as the same jokes are repeated ad nauseaum. This length is exacerbated by the lengthy scene changes that occur too often for such a simple set design. Whilst Victor Spiegel's original music sounds for the most part intriguing, it doesn't always match the intensity of the mood playing out on stage and the execution of light and sound design requires tighter cues to ensure dialogue isn't drowned out.
Of the individual performers, Emily Weare as Queen Isabel stands out as having the appropriate gravitas, clarity and conviction without being overplayed. The majority of the rest of the performance appears under rehearsed with the continuation of hesitancy removing the impression that it could be a character choice. The over dramatization and the absurd fight scene with random pyrotechnics also leads to the impression that this is a group of cosplay nerds that have decided on a whim, to act out Shakespeare.
Whilst the concept of combining Shakespeare and popular culture to create SUPERHAL is good, it requires further fine tuning full reach its potential.
Parade Theatre, NIDA
Photos: Jared Camileri