At school you may be have been bored by English History, with its endless list of names and dates, as much as you most probably found Shakespeare's language incomprehensible. However combine the two with the acting talents and obvious passion of John Stanton and place them in the intimate space that is fortyfivedownstairs, and you will experience both history and language as living, breathing people.
John Stanton admits to loving beautiful language and Shakespeare in particular. His passion for delivering text where language and rhythm rule led him to create And When He Falls, a fast-paced, 75 minute performance that allows him to deliver some of his favourite monologues from Shakespeare within the context of a re-telling of the history of the Plantagenet Kings of England.
The black curtained stage contains only a grand piano, a wooden stool and a wooden armchair; Stanton is dressed in simple black and the only touch of colour is a blood-red cloth thrown casually over the back of the piano. At the keyboard sits the noted musician (pianist, composer and music educator) Tony Gould. His sparsely written original music adds a subtle dimension to the performance, sometimes acting as a counterpoint, at others accentuating dramatic moments or complementing the action; he even introduces a touch of comedy interpolating a passage from The Star Spangled Banner - this is, after all, a performance about power and politics. But Stanton and Shakespeare are always centre stage.
Stanton has created for himself a 'dream role', one that allows him to portray some of his favourite characters whilst reveling in the rhythm and language of Shakespeare. In performance he moves with ease from historical commentator - briefly recounting the story of the politics, wars, seduction and intrigue that were the essential ingredients of some 300 years of British royalty - to historical character as portrayed through the words of the master playwrights Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare.
Christopher Marlowe's feckless Edward II is the starting point and Shakespeare's Cardinal Wolsey (Henry VIII) has the last word, his speech being the source of the name of this piece. In between the audience is treated to some wonderful interpretations of some of the most iconic characters and speeches from Shakespeare: John of Gaunt's dying speech in Richard II 'This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle …; Henry V before Harfleur 'Once more unto the breech … and before Agincourt 'This day is called the feast of Crispian … ' ; and Stanton clearly delights in his portrayal of Shakespeare's delicious, crafty, villain Richard III, as do the audience.
Under the direction of Jill Forster (her debut as director although she has a string of acting credits to her bow dating back to the 1970s) Stanton succeeds in bringing English History and Shakespeare's royal characters to life in all their complexity. So don't be put off by past experiences, this is no dull boring performance, but one full of passion with moments of humour, great music and language laden with beauty and meaning, brought to you by consummate professionals who love their subject.
And When He Falls
The Plantagenet Kings of England
Directed by Jill Forster
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: March 11 - 29
Preview: Tuesday March 10 @8pm; Opening Night Wednesday March 11 @8pm
Times: Wed-Sat @7pm; Sun @5pm
Tickets: $32/$25 Conc./Preview $20
Bookings: fortyfivedownstairs.com or 9662 9966