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SYDNEY FESTIVAL REVIEW: War of the Roses Part One & Part Two

This production, a co-presentation between Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Festival, and Perth International Arts Festival, is just one of the several shows currently playing that require a huge time commitment from its audience.
SYDNEY FESTIVAL REVIEW: War of the Roses Part One & Part Two
The War of the Roses - Part One & Part Two This production, a co-presentation between Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Festival, and Perth International Arts Festival, is just one of the several shows currently playing that require a huge time commitment from its audience. The War of the Roses (this adaptation by Tom Wright and Benedict Andrews) is a brave undertaking and, on the whole, has succeeded in creating innovative and engaging theatre. Just to get this out of the way now - the question on everyone’s lips seems to be: was Cate good? In my opinion, Blanchett gave an extremely conscious, but still playful and engaging performance. She was clearly a drawcard for this piece and I’d heard several people joke that she’s “probably only in it at the beginning and the end”. Indeed. Blanchett’s portrayal of King Richard II in Part One Act One had a lovely irreverence to it and her role in Part Two Act Two as Lady Anne was small but sufficient. However the finest performance of this show belongs to Pamela Rabe – more on this later. A collation of Shakespeare’s history plays exploring the “development, decline and decay of a civilisation”, as Andrews explains in his wonderfully eloquent and insightful program notes; the four acts are very clearly demarcated from one another with distinctive design and casting choices. Part One Act One was easily the most engaging act for me. But then again, I do like shiny pretty things so this act was right up my alley – the continuous gentle rain of shiny gold confetti was a unique and thematically clever concept. In Act Two the stage was bare, with only the male cast members appearing onstage. Stefan Gregory underscores the entire act onstage with an electric guitar and amplifier – an aspect that many, I have heard, found irritating but which I actually enjoyed. The imagery in this act was particularly strong and effective – Eden Falk hanging from a noose in the middle of the stage; and then Ewan Leslie’s wartime pontificating, as Prince Henry/Henry V, covered in honey; then mud; then blood. It seems minor and silly to note this in the scheme of things, but design-wise, the simple act of adding the glitter to each of the oozing and viscous substances, again, made for a strikingly beautiful, morbid imagery. Part Two is where I began to lose interest. This was, in terms of content and design, the least appealing and interesting part of the journey for me. The flower-strewn boxing ring (although apparently opinions differ on whether this was indeed a boxing ring) was visually striking to begin with, but I have to admit that the significance of the continuous spitting blood and throwing flour around the space was lost on me. (In the interests of full disclosure, however, I have to admit to enjoying the digital screen above the boxing ring, which summed up each plotline and what action was taking place. I can think of several plays that should have embraced this concept...!) In Part Two Act Two, we had a soft grey rain falling over a bleak playground – a nice contrast the glittering opening act. This act really belonged to Rabe, as Richard III. Always a consummate performer, she has created what is probably my favourite Richard III to date – she captured the childlike jealously and ambition perfectly. But most of all – she was very, very funny. Although I saw this piece over two consecutive nights, bear a thought for those who are attending the full 8+ hours in the one sitting – by thing point, a little laughter provided so thoughtfully by an actor with such wonderful timing is a blessing indeed. I also loved that Rabe did not feel the need to continuously portray Richard’s physical deformities throughout the play - they were presented at the beginning, with a few little ‘reminders’ throughout, and that was that. It is unfair, but inevitable, that The War of the Roses will be compared to Lapage’s Lipsynch, the other epic offering from this year’s Festival - I certainly enjoyed Lipsynch better. The copious intervals were tedious and added an extra two hours to the time commitment, but the show itself did not drag and I was engaged at a high level the entire performance. I can’t honestly say the same for The War of the Roses. However, the design concepts were some of my favourite from recent times, and all artists gave compelling performances. Playing until February 15, I recommend getting along to this show if you can, though wouldn’t bother if you can only attend one of the parts – you need to see both to truly appreciate the undertaking. Finally, for those interested, I highly recommend reading The Australian article on this show – Matthew Westwood gives some really thoughtful views on these ‘marathon’ shows" their place in festival environments" and why punters and artists alike are willing to invest in them. Did anyone else see this piece? Don’t forget, you can comment below – let us know what you thought. Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Festival and Perth International Arts Festival present the STC Actors Company in THE WAR OF THE ROSES By William Shakespeare Adapted by Tom Wright and Benedict Andrews Directed by Benedict Andrews Sydney Festival Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay 5 January – 14 February 2009 Bookings: Sydney Theatre Company 02 9250 1777 or Ticketek 1300 888 412 Perth International Arts Festival His Majesty’s Theatre 27 February – 8 March 2009 (Opening: 27 February) Bookings: 08 9484 1133

Alison Nadebaum

Sunday 18 January, 2009

About the author

Alison Nadebaum recently moved to Sydney from Western Australia, and has worn many different hats within the arts industry, including actor, director, writer, usher, administrator, publicist, producer, finance officer, avid theatre-goer, and follow-spot operator (to varying degrees of success – particularly that last one). Prior to her west coast defection, Alison held the role of Producer at independent performance company ThinIce, and now works at the Sydney Opera House.