World Buskers Festival

The roving life of a carnie


The World Buskers Festival has rolled into town. Alongside the top international acts plying their fun-filled antics on our streets are our own multi-talented entertainers. Vicki Anderson talks to David Ladderman about the roving life of a carnie and his show, Battle of the Bastards, GO's homegrown pick of the festival.
In the cafe we are in, a group of girls want to sniff David Ladderman.

"You smell good. I loved you in a burlesque show at The Loons. I saw it three times. You were awesome," one says.

Does he get that a lot?

"Probably. It's good fun."

Ladderman, he of the distinctive hairstyle, a founding member of The Motley Two and The Loons Circus Theatre Company, presents his inventive and hilarious story of Shakespeare's biggest bastard at the World Buskers Festival.

While touring "Bastards" internationally, over the past year the Christchurch based entertainer has also worked at New Zealand Opera, The Court Theatre, The Hobbit World Premiere and The New Zealand International Comedy Festival.

The Loons may be out of action but Ladderman (not his real name) says cohort Mike Friend has been working on projects at Lyttelton Main School where a rehearsal of Rumpelstiltskin is in action.

Ladderman has recently returned from the Toronto Fringe Festival where his show Battle of the Bastards scored glowing reviews and won Best Of The Fringe. It was first performed in Lyttelton but the street performer is pleased the buskers festival show is in a tent.

"Imagine being on the street going, 'do you guys want to come and watch a Shakespeare?' while the guy down the road is revving his chainsaw."

He admits that the show is ambitious for a busking festival.

"This festival is grown up enough that it goes, 'yeah, come in, stand in next to the comedy and burlesque, do your off-kilter stuff". It'll work here, I hope."

He also hopes no-one heckles him Shakespearean style: "Gettest on with it thou".

Why Shakespeare?

"It was already there and it's just fun. I love King Lear, I just actually quite like Shakespeare and am acutely aware that it's boring as bats... often. Look at Macbeth, Hamlet, they were the Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster films of their time. That's what bastard is, it's an attempt to get that back. I also wanted an opportunity to play a cartoon villain. Edmund is a little badass."

The Australian native moved here in 1998 to attend the CircoArts School.

"I wasn't born with a red and black one-eye, I've grown one".

He performed with Mulletman and friends within the CircoArts crowd.

"At CircoArts, Sam Wills was in the year before us as was Dandyman, Shay Horay was the year after us. Much to Wellington's distaste, Christchurch forever was the centre of busking and circus for the nation.

"The World Buskers Festival started first but those two things grew up at the same time."

Christchurch carnies have to take their shows overseas before they become "legitimised" here.

"Prophet is a mad man in his own town and all that.

"Sam's show has gone all over the world and there are opportunities for people to go away and come home and there's a festival in their hometown that stands up to anything in the world."

Does he think Cantabrians take the buskers festival for granted?

"People hear and read every year 'this is as good a festival as anywhere in the world'. I guess they think 'but people say that about everything' but in this case it's actually true, it's world class."

For Ladderman it's sharing his love of Shakespeare that inspires.

"Some of the best feedback I've ever had was a fellow who said, 'Geez I hate that stuff but I went home and read King Lear after I saw your show'."

With his girlfriend, who performs as the Coin Operated Girl, Christchurch entertainer Lizzie Tollemache, also the producer of Battle of the Bastards, the pair are working up a show to take back to Canada this year.

Having seen Ladderman perform often at the Darkroom's fabulous regular Monday Night Magic sessions, I'm curious about them.

"The biggest difference between Monday Night Magic and the World Buskers Festival is that the acts at Monday Night Magic now will be in the buskers festival in a few years.

"Lizzie and I have been working on our duo stuff at Monday Night Magic and that show is rich with the stories of the great mindreaders of the past and the crazy things they got up to and the way they lived their lives. It's ripe for being dealt to and that's what we're taking back to Canada this year."

Ladderman assures that the narrator offers a guided tour through the antiquated language in Battle of the Bastards.

"Give it 10 minutes, your ear turns in. There's no swearing but the word bastard is constantly used, it's in the play over 20 times. Shakespeare is Yoda speak, I'm sure that's where Star Wars got the idea from."

Another highlight of the festival is, he says, for 10 days of the year "Christchurch carnies become respected citizens".

Battle of the Bastards (R16), today to January 25, 9.30pm at Tea Cup Tent, Busker Park, North Hagley Park. $10/$15. See Very limited seats available on the door.

The roving life of a carnie

- © Fairfax NZ News