Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
A dramatised presentation about Shakespeare's works
Four bogans are sitting around a fire pit in a backyard, drinking beer, making crude jokes, and discussing whether the TV show Sons of Anarchy was inspired by Piglet. Is that Piglet from Winnie the Pooh? No, not Winnie the Pooh - the one by Shakespeare - Hamlet, that's the one. Our four bogans, Shazza, Raelene, Darcy and Scottie, nail the look and the accent and are thoroughly uninformed about who Shakespeare was, or why anyone would bother reading him. Bogan Shakespeare seems to be off to a good start.
Enter their mate Bassanius, who just happens to have a keen interest in the very topic they're discussing. Bassanius looks and speaks just as bogan as the rest of them, but with one difference: he's a walking, talking encyclopedia about everything Shakespeare. He doesn't waste a moment before diving into a "fun facts about Shakespeare" lesson, and when he sees that his mates are interested, he conjures up apparitions who are even bigger Shakespeare nerds than he is. They're named Horatio and Yorick, presumably after the characters by those names from Hamlet (Horatio was Hamlet's trusted friend, while Yorick was a court jester that Hamlet loved as a boy). Horatio and Yorick look, speak, and behave like actors in a traditional Shakespearean play. They also appear to have all of Shakespeare's works memorised by heart, complete with references.
What follows is close to an hour of condensed information about Shakespeare, bordering on information overload. Bassanius, Yorick and Horatio together educate Shazza, Raelene, Darcy and Scottie about Shakespearean insults, words and phrases coined by the bard, an overview of his works, a detailed study of a couple of scenes from Romeo and Juliet (cue in fun facts about how wildly unromantic this love story really was, and how inappropriate the age difference between the protagonists) and Macbeth (cue in fun facts about theatre traditions and superstitions about always calling it "the Scottish play"), and finally questions about authorship and whether Shakespeare actually even wrote any of what is credited to him.
Bogan Shakespeare is a perplexing work. On one hand, it's well-researched, and well put together by a cast with strong commitment and strong stage presence. It has some funny lines and engaging moments, especially in the second half when they start playing out actual scenes from Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. On the other hand though, it's more of a dramatised essay about Shakespeare that happens to have bogans in it, than a play about people who have an authentic interaction with something that wasn't previously a part of their normal lives. It's as contrived as it gets.
If Shakespeare was a religion, and Shazza, Raelene, Darcy and Scottie were the unconverted, then Bassanius, Yorick, and Horatio would be like missionaries who knocked on their door and delivered their spiel for as long as they had an audience. We never get a sense of any of the characters' individual personalities, only a generic stereotype that applies equally to them all as bogans. There's a running theme of misogyny in that stereotype, which is never addressed or rectified. There's no explanation as to how, about halfway through the play, these uninformed bogans suddenly have entire monologues and scenes memorised, as they head towards a complete conversion. By the end, they're all in agreement about how amazing Shakespeare is, and when that is achieved, the apparitions leave because their work is done. This is as frustrating as it is unrealistic.
Bogan Shakespeare is a show with strong factual content and strong performers, but a forced structure and an absent storyline. If some of the taught content was sacrificed to make room for the development of the plot and characters, and the style tweaked to invite empathetic rather than simply intellectual engagement, it would probably make for a far more interesting experience.