Phill Savige’s Bogan Shakespeare!

by | Apr 10, 2023

By Anna Hayes

The ubiquity of Shakespeare is the central theme of Here There & Everywhere’s MICF production, ‘Bogan Shakespeare’, a crass and crude exploration of the Bard through the eyes of a group of bogans drinking tinnies in the backyard.

It shouldn’t be a surprising combination really, Shakespeare’s really quite funny, and bogans definitely have their moments of hilarity!

When I saw this listing on the MICF program, I jumped at the opportunity to review it. I like Shakespeare and, while I’m aware of the various inspirations his work has had on language and narrative, I think I even found myself a bit in awe at times of just how much of our everyday vernacular can be attributed back to him.

It’s funny because while our main characters, particularly Kylie, Shazza and Scottie, are lamenting the boring bits and the silly language (a bit bloody rich, in my mind, coming from a nation that shortens every word in the dictionary!), there’s quite a reverential feeling to the play as a whole.

We open with Bass (Phill Savige) soliloquising about a recent night with his mates where they got into a heated conversation about the merits of Shakespeare – not, as he puts it, the general run of conversation on your average night around a fire pit in Frankston!

Bass knows his stuff, though we’re never really told how and it might have been nice to have line or two about where his interest came from, or even a scene where his girlfriend Kylie finds a dust covered diploma or a ‘Shakespeare for Dummies’ book or some such device.

From there, we meet Kylie (Emily Slade), Scottie (Luke Witham) and Shazza (Krissi Creighton), as they discuss whether ‘Sons of Anarchy’ is based on ‘Hamlet’, complete with some suitably crass appreciation for the show’s lead actor Charlie Hunnam.

When Bass tries to back Scottie on his assertion and explain that, actually, quite a lot of everyday language is based on Shakespeare, the expected happens – they all take the piss out of each other and question their respective brain power – poor Shazza, the lone Collingwood fan, gets the brunt of a lot of this!

Eyebrows rolling, Bass enlists the help of a couple of Shakespearean ghosts, Horatio (Andrew Hood) and Yorick (John Reisinger) to give the group a crash course on why Shakespeare was so great.

What follows is a very humorous exploration of Shakespearean themes, spanning across a number of his most famous plays. We hear discussions around suicide (Hamlet), strong female characters (Much Ado & others), young (a little too young!) love (Romeo & Juliet), murder and thirst for power (Macbeth) and others.

The audience enjoys a very slick and hilarious retelling of Macbeth, after first trying to hammer home the fact that the play’s name shouldn’t be uttered aloud. This results in one of the funniest moments of the piece when the mostly stoic Yorick loses the plot with Shazza when she speaks the title for the umpteenth time of the scene.

Unfortunately, a similar mechanism with ‘Romeo & Juliet’ falls a little flat for me. Perhaps it’s the familiarity with the text – I suspect every Year 8/9 student in the world studies the play in depth – and it’s also been given the Baz Luhrmann treatment… I was going to say relatively recently but, yikes, it’s nearly 30 years since that movie came out!

But, my antiquity aside, I couldn’t help feeling like there was a little bit of a lost opportunity to give a different play a similar comedic treatment, without taking from the Romeo & Juliet talking points – for any fans, Romeo does NOT come off well in the girls’ eyes!

The Motley Bauhaus boasts a nice, tight and intimate downstairs theatre with tiered seating and a stage space that’s perfect for a one-set play like this.

Lighting is kept fairly simple with just some blackouts to facilitate the ‘spooky’ entrance and exit of the ghosts; while sound is also fairly minimal other than the musical number near the end – the music did slightly overpower the players in this case and could do with a small adjustment. The staging is simple – a door with steps for the main cast to enter and exit, and a few chairs of varying heights to add some visual levels.

The cast is a very strong ensemble that bounces off each other with triumphant glee – the interactions between the four friends/two sets of siblings (how very bogan!) are excruciatingly realistic while the ghosts provide the ‘fish out of water’ contrast normally reserved for the Shakespearean neophyte at the opening night of ‘Hamlet’.

The group is lead by Phill Savige as the ‘cultured bogan’, Bass. His timing and responses are excellent – his side notes during the staging of Macbeth (sorry, sorry, “the Scottish Play”!) are witty and realistic. He is perfectly opposed by Scottie, the guffawing tradie who is almost afraid to be making connections to Shakespeare, for fear of being slagged off.

Krissi Crighton and Emily Slade, as Shazza and Kylie are, and I mean this in the best possible way, perfect as the two girls you don’t want to end up on the table next to you when you’re out for a bite to eat! Shrill and sharp, they cut the boys down to size at regular intervals and aren’t shy about calling out the more colourful aspects of Shakespearean literature.

Finally, our two ghosts bring a wonderful contrast to the piece – written as ghosts of 1600s actors, they are bombastically pompous about the ‘good ol’ days’, while suitably sheepish about some of the less savoury stuff from the time. The anecdotes about how each man died are particularly hilarious – alas, poor Yorick indeed!

As previously mentioned, Reisinger is the more composed ghost, a characteristic that makes his outbursts even funnier. Meanwhile, Hood has a booming ‘I am a thespian’ type of approach which adds a lot humour to his exchanges.

Shakespeare-themed plays are not uncommon – this is the third such play I’ve seen, the previous ones being ‘Shakespeare’s a Dick’ by Mark Aloysius Kenneally; and ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged’ by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. Shows like this are great gateways into Shakespeare and, as I said previously, with director and writer Phillip A Mayer at the helm, it becomes very much a tribute to the playwright.

It runs for the rest of this week so leave your sensitivities at the door, grab a tinnie and get a taste of Shakespeare for the bogans. You won’t be disappointed – scandalised maybe, but that’s what the tinnies are for!

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