MUSC’s Plastic Shakespeare offers a modern interpretation of the Shakespearean canon. This double bill production offers dichotomous approach to Shakespearean content in the contrasting short plays Hamlet by the Pool and Engraft.
Hamlet by the Pool outwardly satirises its own audience. It offers an introspective look at 20-something ‘hipster’ Melbournians and their knowledge of Shakespeare. The story centres around a Shakespearean troupe who attempt to piece together the premise and action of Hamlet after having lost almost the entire script. The irony of a Shakespeare troupe with no knowledge of Shakespeare rings true to the immeasurable number of Melbourne Uni literature majors who don’t read their prescribed texts. The overtly confident belief that you have knowledge on a text you’ve barely even read is the core relatable aspect of this play. This performance was as enjoyable to Shakespeare and theatre fans as watching Deadpool was to comic book readers. It was so incredibly meta, ironic, and downright fun. The hilarious self referential aspect of this short play is summed up in one line: “What we show the audience isn’t a reality… it’s not even Shakespeare.”
The set was a highlight of the production. The hills hoist sat centre stage in front of a fabulous graphic cardboard rendition of a timber fence with laundry baskets strewn about the yard. The use of cardboard throughout the set added to the characterisation of the unprepared and hodge-podged Shakespearean troupe. It was a perfect symbol of the ultimate disarray of the production itself.
Often people critique representations of Shakespeare as an intentional reproduction of intellectual high art that intentionally excludes the masses. Hamlet by the Pool offered the opportunity for those unfamiliar with Shakespeare and Hamlet to explore the text and the undercurrent themes. Overall, it was a hilarious and engrossingly meta performance of Hamlet.
Though I completely adored Hamlet by the Pool, Engraft offered an alternate approach to the Shakespearean canon. While it attempted to provide a similar tang of millennial flavour, it become too overwhelming to stomach. The set was incredible in its minimalism, constructed from a cage, three chairs, and some neon lights. However, the play was excessively postmodern. Unlike Hamlet by the Pool, I felt as though Engraft intentionally excluded the audience from its narrative. Though the themes were understood, there was a lack of clarity and accessibility to the play itself. The actors themselves had great stage presence, but the narrative of the play was disjointed from the audience.
Overall, Plastic Shakespeare offered a riveting and intriguing look at the modern reinvention of Shakespeare and provided some good laughs along the way.
Tickets for MUSC's production of Plastic Shakespeare can be found here. Tickets are still available for available for tonight (12/5) at 1:30pm and 7:30pm.