Review: A Midsummer Night’s Raiders

Posted: August 31, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
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Review:  A Midsummer Night’s Raiders.
Written by:  Nicholas Ellenbogen, with Andrew Brent and Luke Ellenbogen
Directed by:  Andrew Brent
Cast: Nicholas and Luke Ellenbogen, and members of the audience.
Review:  Astrid Stark
First published in the Sunday Independent:  30 August 09

 Shakespeare:  the missing ink. 

You will have to buckle-up for the latest fast paced comical romp that is A Midsummer Night’s Raiders.  Father and son team, Nicholas and Luke Ellenbogen, are back with the 20th production from the renowned Raiders series and the production is as slick and as hilarious as ever.  

Luke and Nicholas Ellenbogen as William Shakespeare and the lusty Queen in A Midsummer Night's Raiders pic  by Andrew Brown - Copy

Luke and Nicholas Ellenbogen as William Shakespeare and the lusty Queen in A Midsummer Night's Raiders pic by Andrew Brown - Copy

 A Midsummer Night’s Raiders tells the story of the secret life of William Shakespeare as revealed by a stash of letters, which were found by a Doctor Hargrove, Professor of Medieval Orthography at the University of the Witwatersrand.   The letters reveal that Shakespeare had lived for far longer than previously thought, and that the jealous and tyrannical ‘Virgin’ Queen Elizabeth I of England, lusted after him.  During the play she concocts a plan to get the Bard into her royal bed by commissioning him to write the first play in English history to have a female lead.  She suggests that the young writer, ‘dip his quill into the royal ink’. To Shakespeare’s absolute horror; the lascivious Queen insists on playing the role of Queen Lear herself.  Worse still, he is suffering from writer’s block and decides to stage his own death to escape persecution; and so the mad romp unfolds.

 Veteran actor and director, Nicholas Ellenbogen, plays the role of the Queen with lusty glee.  His experience as accomplished actor and his impeccable comic timing has the audience spellbound right from the start.  Nicholas utterly immerses himself into his performance and is such a joy to watch.  

His son, Luke, is a winner of two Fleur du Cap Awards, and he has recently directed Oscar Wilde’s, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Harold Pinter’s, The Dumb Waiter, at Grahamstown National Arts Festival this year.  Luke, instead of simply holding his own against his experienced father, works harmoniously together with him, which makes the performance run like a well-oiled machine.   They expertly bounce their performances off one another and, unless they are supernaturally talented actors, they give the impression of thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage.  

The third member of the cast is the audience.  The father and son team create an entire cast by handing out roles to unsuspecting audience members who are called up to play the various roles.   And this is where the giggles that have turned to laughter, reach uncontrollable, snorting proportions.  Both the Queen and the Bard have body doubles that must play the roles they themselves find unpalatable.  The guy who was picked as the Queen’s double has to do a raunchy bedroom scene with Shakespeare’s body double, and if the scene is not steamy enough for the brothers Ellenbogen, the body doubles are harshly instructed to put in more effort. Imagine doing a simulated sex scene with a complete stranger in front of a theatre full of people.  Yet, each audience member puts fantastic effort into their roles; no matter how humiliating.  Spot the Dog was cast out of the audience, and the entire poor guy got to do on stage, was to lie behind a couch and be flatulent – which he did with great gusto.    

Director, Andrew Brent, who was schooled at the Barbican Arts Centre in London, acted in some of the earlier Raiders’ productions. He moved on to direct the series of farcical plays from 2004 onwards. He brings to the production his skill and experience that adds to the magic. 

A Midsummer Night’s was the highest grossing show at the recent Arts Festival in Grahamstown.  A large portion of its success must be attributed to the clever writing by Nicholas, assisted by Luke, and Andrew Brent. The dialogue is fast-paced – punctuated by frivolous puns – and wonderfully light and uncomplicated.  Shakespeare is in hiding and his companion is disguised as a mole, of the facial kind – literally.  The young bard walks into the pub announcing, “I came in as Ariel; but I did not get a very good reception. Perhaps I should change the channel.” His companion turns to the audience and drily replies, “They get the picture.”

The costumes, props and stunts are numerous and very clever.   The two Ellenbogens are squashed on top of a little purple boat, Nicholas is using leaf blower to create wind to propel them forward.  In one scene, the Queen – played by an audience member – is heavily pregnant; her water breaks; spraying the hysterical audience.  Daniel Galloway’s clever writing enhances the use of the many different props and adds a light, airy feeling to the stage. 

Raiders pic 3 Nicholas and Luke Ellenbogen set sail in A Midsummer Night's Raiders pic by Zukiswa Zimela

Raiders pic 3 Nicholas and Luke Ellenbogen set sail in A Midsummer Night's Raiders pic by Zukiswa Zimela

The play should be accessible to most people; unless you don’t like your Shakespeare to be turned into a farcical folly. It’s very physical and it’s side-splittingly funny.  It is a great way to laugh out the last of the winter chills in the snug comfort of the theatre. 

The play is on at the Baxter Theatre until 5 September. 

End

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