David Ladderman is a man of many talents. He is an experienced, engaging street performer, and he has had a long involvement with Christchurch circus company The Loons.
This show, Stand Up For Bastards, is a fundraising performance with the aim of helping Ladderman and producer Lizzie Tollemache make their way around New Zealand and then to Canada where Ladderman will perform his one man show in Fringe festivals (and, hopefully, have enough money to come home again). The first half consists of an impressive juggling routine and feats of mentalism (care of Ladderman) and songs and performance poetry (from Tollemache), and the second is the Fringe show itself.
Battle of the Bastards centres on the subplot of King Lear, in which Edmund, bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester, engages in some violent and treacherous acts of royal social climbing. The show is simple and sparse – there is no set, only a handful of props, no special costuming and Ladderman flips between characters as required. While we are given some broad stroke context, pretty much everything else – from courtly machinations to storms and madness – we are told, frequently, “you don't need to know”.
The show is as much a lesson in Shakespearean language and character as it is a comic exploration of this fairly grisly and brutal storyline. Ladderman steps the audience through the story, the language and the characters' motivations in a manner that illuminates the play's broader themes, while leaving time for some goofy stage fighting, well-placed audience participation and a touch of eye gouging.
The pace is swift, and the performance is rich and varied. Although he jokes about his background as a street performer, Ladderman is a fine actor, switching deftly from pathos to loose, swaggering comedy, all the while playing with the audience's expectations of both the subject matter and how Shakespeare “should” be performed and received.
Battle of the Bastards has been performed previously in much tighter spaces, such as the tiny stage at Christchurch bar and venue ‘darkroom'. While the piece certainly works on the broad stage at the Court Theatre, I suspect that a tighter, more focused performance space would benefit both the show and the audience, particularly given the amount of audience interaction involved.
Whatever life the piece has after its performances at Fringe festivals here and in Canada, it would be ideally suited in tone, content and length as a touring piece for senior English and drama students, for it is charmingly didactic without ever being patronising or gauche.
The irony is not lost on many that this ‘bastard' style of performance – carnie Shakespeare, busking meets Bard – is demonstrating its legitimacy on the stage of the Court Theatre, the vanguard of the traditional in Christchurch theatre. As Ladderman quips with self deprecation, the last time people may have seen him was juggling fire in the snow. No matter, really, because us groundlings need entertaining too. Battle of the Bastards is intelligent, raucously funny and highly recommended.
Whoever thinks Shakespeare is not for everyone needs to get a ticket to Battle of the Bastards. A play that is a play on King Lear, this is a unique and refreshing theatrical piece, particularly in a sea of stand up comedy shows.
Written and performed by David Ladderman, this hour-long play takes one of Shakespeare’s classics and gives it a more contemporary and comical feel. At its core, Battle of the Bastards, as David explains to us, is essentially about three things: three acts of bastardy, three essential characters and three letters.
With just a bare stage and minimal humble props at his disposal, David skilfully brings to life the world within King Lear. The Fourth Wall is torn down as he seamlessly goes in and out of character throughout the show; keeping us abreast with the key plot points and regularly checking in with quick recaps to make sure everyone is still on the journey with him.
There are also opportunities where the tables turn and audience members are invited to participate and get involved in the action – including an elaborate fight scene where you even get to cast your co-star. David’s humor, charisma and affable nature make this interactive element of the show incredibly engaging and particularly fun to watch.
Battle of the Bastards is an enjoyable, fast-paced and highly energetic tragi-comedy and is Shakespeare at its most accessible. David Ladderman is an excellent writer, a talented performer and just a fantastic entertainer – a triple threat. Recommended for both Shakespeare fans and the literary novice.
Bringing his street-performing busker skills to deconstructing Shakespeare's biggest bastard is a winning formula for Christchurch ‘carnie' and well-known Loon (late of Lyttelton) David Ladderman.
Constantly on the move, like a combination of a toy monkey on a stick and a dancer on a musical box revolve, and coiffed like a punk, his friendliness and generosity as a performer of fun stuff – like formidable three-baton juggling – is a well-conceived starting point from which to descend into bastardry.
Given the Bard was always mindful of ‘the goundlings', I'm not sure Ladderman needs to play quite so much on the general misconception that Shakespeare is high-brow, and keep reassuring us he won't get arty-farty or academic on us.
Having warned us he's about to get serious, he treats us to “Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services are bound” and demands to know “Why bastard? wherefore base? / When my dimensions are as well compact, / My mind as generous, and my shape as true, / As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us / With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?”
When he asks us what that's from, the entire audience at BATS Out Of Site choruses, “King Lear,” and he responds, “Oh right, yeah – I'm in Wellington.” So fair enough, maybe this audience is an exception to his usual mob. Or maybe we just read the Comedy Festival blurb.
Mind you there are plenty of ready answers to “who's your favourite character?” and “what's your favourite scene?” so yes, dammit, we are a literate lot. (Probably a significant percentage retain a love of Shakespeare from their high school participation in Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand programmes.)
Nevertheless he summaries King Lear in five sentences then interpolates his expertly-performed excerpts of the Edmund-Edgar/Poor Tom-Gloucester-Regan-Cornwall-Albany sub-plot with snippets of stuff we need to know, happily side-lining what we don't.
He tells us which screen actor would play various characters (and does a mean Russell Crowe), delegates key roles to a couple from the audience – Adrianne Roberts and Dean Hewison do the honours this opening night (she insisted I include them in this review) – and a major role is allocated to a pumpkin, to brilliant effect.
I read somewhere that David Ladderman had played the Fool more than once in King Lear and had long since hankered for Edmund the Bastard. And now, by seeming to play the fool with the Bard's greatest tragedy, he acquits himself extremely well at every level, not least in bringing the purpose of the story home.
I won't give any more away, although the nature of the performance is such that it will have very different dynamics each time, ensuring a fresh approach to a very old tale. It's only on until Saturday so don't delay!
(What with No Holds Bard opening at Downstage tomorrow night, Wellington is suddenly very well served with tragical-comical Shakespeare. And the current line-up at Bats – Outsiders Guide; PSA-Revolution; Battle of the Bastards – brings a wealth of talent to an astonishingly rich evening of theatre. Not bad for “a dying city”.)
Variety performer David Ladderman brings to the Comedy Festival a one-man interpretation of King Lear Battle of the Bastards. Admittedly, it’s a bit of niche performance. A night of Shakespeare might be a turn off for some expecting some stand up. Thankfully, Ladderman knows this. His show is filled with a variety of means to keep the attention of those most likely to be scared off, from juggling to jokes.
He keeps the focus is squarely on a single subplot and runs through it in a barebones, cliff notes style. Anything unnecessary for ones enjoyment or understanding is avoided. What he does perform is delivered with gusto and physicality, Ladderman jumping between characters, and all over the stage, with ease.
Where the comedy comes in is through the audience interaction. Throughout, those in the theatre are encouraged to play along, with sound effects or chants or anything else Ladderman needs in the moment. There are only so many characters he can play at once, so it comes as no surprise when members of the audience are invited onstage for a particularly pivotal scene.
The show I attended featured one actor a little shy and another a little too eager, but Ladderman was able to bounce off of both, keeping everyone in the theatre attentive and entertained. Considering the possibilities brought in with each new crowd, this spontaneity might be one of the shows biggest draws. It helps that said scene involved creative use of a pumpkin and some grisly violence.
It really shouldn’t work, but whether you or not you have a working knowledge of Shakespeare, Battle of the Bastards makes for an entertaining evening. David Ladderman is a charismatic host, and the unpredictable reactions of the audience allow for a performance that could change on a dime. At the very least it adds some laughs into one of the Bard’s greatest tragedies.
Lizzie Tollemache - theatreview.org.nz'He is so comfortable and warmed into the understanding of ideas and emotions at the heart of the play, that it runs through every gesture, large or small, and he is able to play around within the fascinating world of the words.'open/close
Is it wrong of me to assume that everyone on this website has some working knowledge King Lear? We've all, at least read the play or seen a production of it, right?
Ok, I'll simply skip explaining one of the densest, most enduring of Shakespeare's tragedies, simply because we don't need to know the details of the entire play when approaching this new work of highly physical performance from Christchurch based street and circus performer, David Ladderman. He lays it all out for us, but focuses our attention on one particular through-line: the “bastards” of the source material.
Ladderman's style is affable and warm, and he welcomes us with some of his characteristic fast-paced patter and juggling moves before launching us headlong into an hour-long Cliff Notes version of the world of the masculine heart of The Bard's most tragically political writings.
The script takes its leaping-off point at the monologue of Edmund and Ladderman finds much to mine in the passion by simply pithily spitting the “Now gods, stand up for bastards” speech. This gives us a very clear indication of the commitment he has placed on keeping the work clear and true to the original quarto.
His delivery is so enunciated and crisp, in fact, that it is almost uncomfortably at odds to the welcome we had just received from him. But he soon breaks this down and sets our minds at rest that this will not be the usual starchy delivery we've come to expect from our school days, but something a bit more exciting.
He quickly touches lightly on the main crux of the plot and characters, because we “don't need to know”, before throwing them to the wind in favour of examining the relationship between Edmund, Edgar and their father Gloucester, and how the three important turning points of this sub-plot run parallel to the main work.
It is in the full-on physical playing of the characters that Ladderman absolutely excels in bringing the true understanding out of the archaic words. He is so comfortable and warmed into the understanding of ideas and emotions at the heart of the play, that it runs through every gesture, large or small, and he is able to play around within the fascinating world of the words.
There is something almost profoundly personal in his delivery though, especially when evoking the lines of Edmund, that I feel this might be something akin to a personal catharsis for performer. His presentation of Edgar does seem to suffer slightly from this personal preference, especially in his jerky, stuttery almost autistic interpretation of the “Poor Old Tom” sequence.
A couple of audience volunteers are invited on stage and he cleverly breaks down the conventions of performance and the backstage experience by thrusting those unprepared into his world. This is where the most fun and audience interaction is found through Shakespeare's text.
Though not to all tastes – even for a grown up, slightly jaded Auckland audience – this is great fun and something that manages to balance on the line between stand-up and pure theatre. All credit to Ladderman for taking a text that many balk at as just too heavy and livening it up so we can fully comprehend a small corner of this world.
A very fun hour of exploration of King Lear, from a particular point-of-view told in a uniquely physical, lo-key, Kiwi bloke style. If it hasn't already been mooted, I'm sure this would go down great in the higher level curriculum for those high school teachers looking for something to engage students with The Bard's great, complex work.
Starting nearly half an hour late can result in an immediate uphill battle for a performer, but, with an enthusiastic energy and true showmanship, David Ladderman quickly has us on his side in his one-man show Battle of the Bastards. The show focuses on the sub-plot to King Lear, namely, the events surrounding Gloucester, Edgar, and Edmund, as initiated by a letter from the latter. Ladderman incorporates the letter motif nicely both in content and style, and addresses and performs the key scenarios they incur.
A few other props, the style element of which Ladderman humoursly addresses, add to the simple spectacle element of the show, which includes a good use of side-lighting to capture the physicality of the performance. There’s some audience participation, and although some of the more vocal audience members didn’t know when to stop, Ladderman took it all in stride and pushed through for a great-paced 50 minute show.
Ladderman clearly has a solid grasp of Shakespeare, and although the transition from shtick to scene is a bit jarring at times, it’s incredibly easy to follow. Add to this a few show mantras to keep the audience both vocal and engaged, and one can only conclude that Ladderman has taken what are some of the most enjoyable speeches for an actor and managed to make an equally enjoyable show out of them. As he says himself, “I wrote the show for myself, but I had you (the audience) in mind when I wrote it.” The proof is evident, in that regardless of your knowledge of King Lear, or Shakespeare in general, Ladderman has created an incredibly accessible show for audiences of all ages.
Battle of the Bastards plays at The Basement as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival until 4th May.
I knew nothing about Battle of the Bastards (Auckland, through until May 4; Wellington, May 15-18) going in, other than that it was going to be something to do with King Lear. Based on that vague description, I was already keen. And if that description makes you even the slightest bit keen, I encourage you to go and see this show without reading the review. It’s more than worth your time and money. It’s a hilarious piece of comedy, a brilliant feat of showmanship, and a beautiful piece of theatre.
Without giving too away much, Battle of the Bastards centres on one of the subplots of King Lear: specifically, the story of Edmund’s betrayal of his brother, Edgar and his father, The Earl of Gloucester. Starting off with an energetic, relentlessly charming warm-up and introduction to the show, David Ladderman tells this part of one of the most famous plays in the world. And he makes it really, really funny.
The show lives on Ladderman, plain and simple. I can’t imagine Battle of the Bastards working without his enthusiasm, his presence and his goofy charisma. It’s hard enough to get a white, middle-class audience in central Auckland to get worked up as it is, but to get them worked up about Shakespeare—and King Lear for that matter—is a miracle. Ladderman’s enthusiasm for his material is infectious. I’m not sure how often he’s performed this show, but it felt like the first time in the very best way, and it makes the audience just as enthusiastic. Our awkward crowd went from not really knowing what they were getting, to wanting the next scene, the next punch line to come along. It’s obviously a credit to Shakespeare’s play and how ironclad the structure is, but it’s also a credit to Ladderman’s talents as a performer.
In Battle of the Bastards, Ladderman gets to not only portray a variety of characters from Lear, namely Edmund, Edgar and Gloucester, and does it with his own spin that’s as inspired as any I’ve seen, but he also gets to be damn funny. It’s hard to describe the comedy of Battle of the Bastards, but Ladderman makes his whole endeavour gut-bustingly funny, whether it’s poking fun at the text, the audience’s unfamiliarity with it, or the audience itself. He’s laughing at himself as much as we are, and not in a way that seems arrogant or amateurish, but in a way that involves us and makes us part of the show and the experience.
I could go on about Ladderman’s brilliance for hundreds of words and I’m tempted to, but it’s easier to just go see the show. Less than a week into the NZ International Comedy Festival and I’m tempted to call it one of the best. It’s definitely one of the most inventive, intelligent shows you’ll see in the festival.