By Noni Kuhner
Do you know how I’d LOVE to see Shakespeare? I’d love a focus on his juicy historical plays, but with a modern, exciting twist. Like using rock music! Yeah, yeah, and with original compositions and everything. And, like, in 3D surround! But not in a cinema, no-no, but live, in an intimate venue with cracking casting, so you feel right in the thick of it.
But ahhh, who am I kidding? That will never happen…
BMA’s Noni Kuhner chats with Director Lexi Sekuless and Composer/Sound Designer Andre Pinzon about all things ROCKSPEARE.
When the topic of William Shakespeare arises, thought tends to turn to his more famous fictional works. We’re talking Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing. And rightfully so – they’re the big-name Marvel movies of the Bard’s catalogue.
But the true faithful know where the true grit and candour lie.
Enter Mill Theatre’s Rockspeare, a new series building on an established gem of an idea. Rockspeare delivers The Bard’s history plays, set against the backdrop of a rock universe where the music inherent in poetry is amplified with original compositions. The first act stepping up to the mic is Henry VI: Part One, also known by the slick, modern title of 1H6. This is the first instalment of four, to be played over four years, showing Canberra that factional power plays have a long and bloody history.
Director/Creator of the series, Lexi Sekuless, says that these plays, while not his most famous, still have plenty of intrigue to lure audiences in. And they intend to do just that right from the start.
“Henry VI: Part One is the first in the Wars of the Roses series,” Sekuless says. “I have done the last part before, being Richard III. I’m really interested in starting from the very beginning; to see where it all began, particularly because the Wars of the Roses is pure political factions.”
And when it comes to rival political factions, where better in the country to host their sound and fury?
“We in Canberra are very aware of the issues, and fallout, that happen to a country when that kind of factional playing overtakes the leaders,” Sekuless says.
Akin to Bell Shakespeare, Baz Luhrmann, and other modern moulding of tales of old, the Rockspeare productions offer a visual and aural twist on the original, all the while remaining faithful to the original text. It is a twist both unique and compelling, completely of their own devising.
“We keep all the original text; except for just every now and again,” Sekuless reveals. “When things really kick off—when the York and the Lancaster factions split—its catalyst in the original text is when one is called a yeoman [Gasp! – Bossman Sko].
“Now we’ve changed that to ‘peasant’,” Sekuless explains, adding that 2023 has taken some of the power from the original word. “50 years ago, ‘yeoman’ would’ve landed as a deep insult.”
Indeed, meticulous care has been taken to all things aural. Sound is one of the key elements of the production, putting audiences deep into the action through complex soundscapes created by composer and sound designer, Andre Pinzon.
For Pinzon, the shape and style of the favourably intimate venue will create an immersive, in-the-thick-of-the-action experience.
“Drums pan from left to right, emulating that feeling [of movement],” Andre explains. “Other sound cues are muffled to create depth of space. Particular effects during certain scenes suddenly erupt, evoking a sense of: Oh! It’s coming from behind me!”
That, by itself, is enough to warrant a swift ticket purchase. But there’s also the addition of original compositions created especially for these productions.
Joan [of Arc] gets a nice guitar riff, which initially was something that was created as a stand-alone sound,” Pinzon reveals. “[During the composition process] I started feeling this connection between the characters and factions, and was soon assigning particular sounds.”
Whilst a neat aural trick unto itself, this sonic specificity serves another purpose.
“I assigned the instrument of the harp to the French,” Pinzon continues. “And then used more of a grungy guitar for the English. You have an instant way to identify the different factions.”
Another element that differs from the original is the complete flip in genders of the cast. While in Shakespeare’s day, only men were allowed to grace the stage, the parts in 1H6 are played by an entirely female and non-binary company. Sekuless says that while a lot of the play is political, this particular artistic decision isn’t meant to be.
“I’m not trying to labour any points other than show behaviour on stage,” she says, pointing out that it’s a reflection of the rising visibility of women in politics. “Obviously, I would like people to take good things away if they can, but if you’re going to look back, you need to wonder why [the historical events occurred].
“And I think that with doing a casting choice like this, you are able to make the looking back have some kind of possible purpose and hope for the future.”
Either way, she says she’s not interested in replicating the traditional productions and intends to make something fresh through Rockspeare, while staying true to the heart of the tales being told.
“What matters is that you make the story land,” Sekuless asserts. “I’m not into museum pieces. If you’re going to revive something, if you’re going to do something old, it needs to be done with a doorway and a window to the future.”
And so comes your turn to be a part of history, as Lexi Sekuless Productions Present – Henry VI: Part One, running from Wednesday, 11 October to Saturday, 4 November at the Mill Theatre at Dairy Road. Tickets for previews week are $35, with main run $50 for adults, $40 for concessions. For more, head to milltheatreatdairyroad.com