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Battle of the Bastards makes best of Auckland Theatre list 2013

The Year in Review: 
The Best of Auckland Theatre in 2013 - Top Ten Plays

via The Lumiere Reader

Battle of the Bastards (David Ladderman)
This little comedy show I walked into without knowing anything about it stunned me. David Ladderman's retelling of King Lear is one that I wish hit bigger-anybody studying King Lear should see it and anybody who hates Shakespeare should see it. Hilarious and unexpectedly engaging.

*   *   *


I knew nothing about Battle of the Bastards (Auckland, through until May 4; Wellington, May 15-18) going in, other than that it was going to be something to do with King Lear. Based on that vague description, I was already keen. And if that description makes you even the slightest bit keen, I encourage you to go and see this show without reading the review. It's more than worth your time and money. It's a hilarious piece of comedy, a brilliant feat of showmanship, and a beautiful piece of theatre.

Without giving too away much, Battle of the Bastards centres on one of the subplots of King Lear: specifically, the story of Edmund's betrayal of his brother, Edgar and his father, The Earl of Gloucester. Starting off with an energetic, relentlessly charming warm-up and introduction to the show, David Ladderman tells this part of one of the most famous plays in the world. And he makes it really, really funny.

The show lives on Ladderman, plain and simple. I can't imagine Battle of the Bastards working without his enthusiasm, his presence and his goofy charisma. It's hard enough to get a white, middle-class audience in central Auckland to get worked up as it is, but to get them worked up about Shakespeare-and King Lear for that matter-is a miracle. Ladderman's enthusiasm for his material is infectious. I'm not sure how often he's performed this show, but it felt like the first time in the very best way, and it makes the audience just as enthusiastic. Our awkward crowd went from not really knowing what they were getting, to wanting the next scene, the next punch line to come along. It's obviously a credit to Shakespeare's play and how ironclad the structure is, but it's also a credit to Ladderman's talents as a performer.

In Battle of the Bastards, Ladderman gets to not only portray a variety of characters from Lear, namely Edmund, Edgar and Gloucester, and does it with his own spin that's as inspired as any I've seen, but he also gets to be damn funny. It's hard to describe the comedy of Battle of the Bastards, but Ladderman makes his whole endeavour gut-bustingly funny, whether it's poking fun at the text, the audience's unfamiliarity with it, or the audience itself. He's laughing at himself as much as we are, and not in a way that seems arrogant or amateurish, but in a way that involves us and makes us part of the show and the experience.

I could go on about Ladderman's brilliance for hundreds of words and I'm tempted to, but it's easier to just go see the show. Less than a week into the NZ International Comedy Festival and I'm tempted to call it one of the best. It's definitely one of the most inventive, intelligent shows you'll see in the festival.

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