Review: Towards Rebirth needs a clearer conception

Shakespeare in the Ruff’s trio of new works about rupture, resilience and rebirth lacks cohesion, but it’s full of energy and bold ideas

TOWARDS REBIRTH (Shakespeare in the Ruff). Runs to September 5, Friday-Sunday 3 and 6:30 pm. Pay-what-you-can (pre-registration mandatory). At Withrow Park (725 Logan). Rating: NNN

The folks at Shakespeare in the Ruff have always shown lots of imagination in adapting Shakespeare texts – just witness their fascinating 2018 production of Portia’s Julius Caesar, by Kaitlyn Riordan, which drew on more than a dozen plays by the Bard to comment on and resonate with the political and cultural climate. 

This year, the company’s 10th, is, of course, unlike any other. Since most of us have experienced loss, isolation and change, how to you evoke all that in a single play? 

SitR hasn’t even attempted that; instead, they’ve commissioned three short works by artists who have been associated with the company. The shows mix bits of Shakespeare with original text and new music and are arranged around the themes of Rupture, Resilience and Rebirth. 

While the result isn’t the most cohesive or clearest piece of storytelling, it’s full of enthusiasm, energy and bold ideas. And witnessing those on the lovely grounds of Withrow Park has its pleasures. 

In the first piece, several office drones, their conformist outfits playfully designed by costume coordinator Ash Özüak, are monotonously working on the 47th floor of an office building when a flock of birds hits the windows. Do they continue working or seek justice? An email raises the stakes for them all. 

In the second, three figures absurdly joined by a thick bolt of red cloth try to escape the dystopia they’re in and seek freedom. 

And in the third, set millions of years later, two clown-like figures attempt to be reborn in some other form, soliciting the audience for suggestions about what they should take on their journey. 

The fact that there’s no director credit comes through in the looseness of the texts, which have an improvisatory feel about them. The Shakespeare quotes often seem arbitrary. For health reasons, all the performers are masked but electronically amplified. The sound on the performance I attended was uneven. And the masks limited the actors’ facial expressions.

Still, Nathaniel Hanula-James stands out in the second playlet with his clear voice and confident decisions – his character’s apology for mansplaining gets a big laugh. And in the final work, desirée leverenz and Stephen Jackman-Torkoff make a lively, funny-tragic duo. Their manipulation of a colourful quilt is often magical.

And speaking of magic, it’s always enchanting seeing the grounds of Withrow Park come alive with a SitR production, the two massive oak trees acting as a natural canopy. May the rebirth of theatre continue.


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