World Buskers Festival

Battle of the Bastards


REVIEW: Battle of the Bastards is what happens when William Shakespeare meets a charming busker with a zeal to entertain.

Christchurch performer David Ladderman has created a funny, engaging and smart one man show that tells the story of Edmund the bastard from Shakespeare's play King Lear.

Ladderman hosts the show as a Puckish court jester pricking the bubble of fear that often surrounds Shakespeare with a grin, a gag and running commentary.

He sets up the story of how Edmund is plotting to murder and lie his way to the English throne, then launches into powerful performances of scenes from King Lear, playing all the roles from the devious Edmund to his unwitting victims.

Most of the Shakespeare scenes are played straight - with Ladderman bringing them to life with focus and sincerity - but for some scenes he brings his busker tricks to bear, pulling audience members on stage to play parts in one scene and encouraging the audience to contribute sound effects for the battle scenes.

Between each scene, Ladderman uses his busker patter to briskly take us through the events of the play.

The result is an entertaining and unpretentious piece of annotated panto Shakespeare.

But you never feel Ladderman is taking cheap shots at the material. Instead, he is using his natural busker populism to persuade the audience to love Shakespeare as much as he does.

To this end, Shakespeare is recast as a fast-moving Hollywood blockbuster, complete with the suggested casting of Russell Crowe and Hugh Grant in two key roles. And Shakespeare as blockbuster is not that much of a stretch, since he wrote the populist hits of his day - full of murder, intrigue and skullduggery.

While it can sometimes feels like Ladderman is unnecessarily apologising for Shakespeare, the power and sincerity of his performance in the King Lear scenes gives away his underlying respect for this material.

And it's interesting that a street performer should retool King Lear to focus, not on the powerful main character, but on Edmund, the outsider forced to prosper on his wits alone.

Battle of the Bastards is a Christchurch performer taking that brave leap to the next level of his career. It is a thrilling sight.

Battle of the Bastards
The Tea Cup Tent, North Hagley Park
Every night at 9.30pm

Battle of the Bastards

Charlie Gates

© Fairfax NZ News