Jungle Reviews: Companhia Bufomecânica at the Roundhouse

Invoking aerial skills and multimedia, Companhia Bufomecânica offered a fresh look over the master of theatre

With the intent of bringing a contemporary look over one of the most important Shakespeare’s plays, Richard III, the Brazilian theatre group Companhia Bufomecânica stupefied the audience at the Roundhouse during the past weekend, evoking aerial skills, multimedia devices, symbolic objects and stunning costumes. The performance is part of the on-going World Shakespeare Festival 2012.

An actor brandishing a hunting weapon and a wild boar’s head – the personal device of the English King Richard III and an important symbol of the political affiliation during the War of the Roses – saluted the Roundhouse’s viewers, followed by drums, dance and clothes’ stripping off on stage, leaving clear Companhia Bufomecânica’s intention: to provoke.

An invite to be part of The World Shakespeare Festival, especially in England, is a challenge so far as Shakespeare’s plays have been brilliantly presented in so many ways, by so many countries and by the best theatre’s actors worldwide. Being innovative is a risk as the performance may look amateur, cliché or even seem overacted; on the other hand it is undoubtedly avant-garde. In an attempt to bring this challenge to the audience, the Brazilian theatre company invoked meta-theatricality in a twist that probably impressed as many as it annoyed others.

The production carries a contemporary aesthetic that sometimes reminds the spectators of Sofia Coppola’s modern Marie Antoinette, in a mix of modern musical themes, including rock, drums and a melancholic accordion;carnivalesque outfits and multimedia projection on the background.

The use of aerial skills maximised the drama and the audience’s involvement in the plot, providing a forefront reading over the Shakespeare’s play catching the audience’s eye with its rhythm during the whole performance. The Companhia Bufomecânica made use of this feature brilliantly in a mesmerizing show, presenting remarkable scenes, especially in Margaret’s prophetic curses, in the dialog in the second act between Richard III and his mother, in which she cursed his future as a king and begged for his death; and most significantly in the parade of the ghosts that visits Richard and Richmond the night before the battle.

The murder of the Duke of Clarence in the tower was beautifully acted and designed. Clarence, portrayed by a woman, sat precariously balanced on a ladder lowered from the grid and suspended from two central points, in which the murderers – after a very interesting Shakespearean debate about consciousness – danced and bounced while listening to Clarence’s begging. The Duke’s death, falling from around twelve feet of the ground was a successful example of how theatre and circus can match perfectly well.

In a memorable scene, also evoking meta-theatricality, the talented interpreter of the spectrum of Queen Margaret, widow of Henry IV, carries her “own dead” and, at the same time, creates a dialogue with the audience, making the spectators think about how challenging a Shakespeare’s play can be – as far as how exaggerated the interpretation must be, how an actor must act and how can Shakespeare be reinterpreted.

Taking risks, the Companhia Bufomecânica scored some points and lost others during its path, as when it made the option of using five actors to play Richard III, making it difficult to establish a relation of complicity between the villain Richard III and the audience, distancing the character of the anti-hero stereotype proposed by Shakespeare. The best interpretation of Richard III was saved to the end, surprisingly, by a woman.

The Brazilian play probably didn’t please Greeks and Trojans, but it was certainly an original take on the story. The fusion between circus and theatre was remarkable and so was the use of multimedia features, offering a fresh approach over this Machiavellian story about power-seeking.

By Bruna Gala

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