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Richard II – MKA and Speakeasy

Our Machiavellian political leaders have long been described as theatrical. Now they're actually on stage.
By Meg Watson
September 15, 2014
By Meg Watson
September 15, 2014

It's not often that you find yourself frequently laughing out loud in an adaptation of Shakespeare. Rarer yet, that such a classical work would be appearing at Fringe. And yet, in this stand-out show of the festival, Mark Wilson has created something rare, inventive and wholly satisfying. Richard II interrogates leadership, corruption, celebrity, gender and our national politics in one fell swoop. If you see one show this year that features a thought-provoking lap dance from a voluptuous Julia Gillard impersonator, make it this one.

It should be said from the outset that Mark Wilson is extraordinary. An international fellow of Shakespeare's Globe, Wilson has dragged this rarely performed text into the modern day and transformed it into a dynamic modern allegory of Australian leadership. A feat not to be scoffed at, his performance as the ill-fated god-king Richard II *coughKevinRuddcough* combines enthralling Shakespearian soliloquy with modern razor-sharp comedy that is both relatable and intellectually engaging.

Joining Wilson onstage, co-creator of the work Olivia Monticciolo also shines as a particularly ocker, feminine version of Richard's usurper Henry Bolingbroke (no guesses at who she's satirising). Whether stripping down while rocking out to the Boss or defending herself against Richard's telling misogynistic outcries, Henry offers both complementary reason and determination to Richard's hilarious flamboyancy and hubris.

Descending from knowing winks at satire to full-blown out of character diatribe from Wilson himself, the allegory of the play is the work's most controversial element. While certain reviewers have expressed disdain for the work's supposed left-wing bias, we feel it's a telling representation of broader political frustrations nationwide. Our country's leadership has been described as Machiavellian and theatrical for some time now, it's only natural that it would eventually work its way on stage.

Don't be put off by your political inclinations or feelings towards Shakespeare. A seamless patchwork of theatrical styles and tongue-in-cheek references, Richard II is a work that can be experienced in many ways. Shakespeare buffs can get a thrill from the innovative performances on show, those well out of the loop can laugh at the straight-up comedy, and together we can all take a bittersweet moment to reflect on the nature of leadership itself. Does it console you at all to know that politicians have been douchebags since the 1500s?

This event was chosen as one of the top ten things to see at this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival. See the full list here. Photo: Sarah Walker.

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