ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

Adapted from Shakespeare’s poem ‘The Rape of Lucrece’
Binge Culture Collective
Toi Poneke Arts Centre | April 19-May 12

Shakespeare’s name is so synonymous with his plays that his poetry is often overlooked by dramatists. This is a misstep; his narrative poetry plots are just as rich, his characters are just as complex, and his language is just as lyrical as even his greatest plays. The Rape of Lucrece is one such example, a narrative poem that has been reimagined and adapted into an audio-visual context. The poem’s dramatic potential is perfectly explored in Lucrece, a sensitive and affecting work presented by Binge Culture Collective and directed by Fiona McNamara.

The work is in an art gallery. We can look past the performers and see where pictures hang, and no one can hide behind the gallery lighting. By not performing the piece in a theatre, the audience is freed from judging the poem like a piece of theatre. We are not seeking a complete whole, nor do we seek out plot or judge acting. What we do is absorb the language and the stylized interpretation with openness.

The performance is supported by an art exhibition. Included is a short film of a housewife baking a cake, a woman sewing, and a woman taking a bath. We can read quotes from the poem on the floor. We listen to recorded passages being read out; it’s unsettling and foreboding. We hold up a seashell and listen to men and women joke about rape.

This exhibition sets the context of domesticity for the performance of the poem. The 30-strong audience take took seats around the thrust stage and the two performers, Ally Garrett and Isobel MacKinnon, arrive. Intriguingly they are dressed in negligees. They greet us kindly and apply each other’s makeup.

From the entire text, McNamara has focused on the character Lucrece, the act of rape, and its consequences on the victim. The text that is delivered is, we are told, taken from the first half of the poem. Garrett and MacKinnon perform this excerpt, walking the line between a recital and fully performed characters. They swap lines, they address audience members, and they affect and condemn each other. And, eventually, roles begin to emerge: MacKinnon is Lucrece and Garrett is Tarquin.

As the poem moves closer towards its eponymous crime, a curtain upstage is parted to reveal a basin of water on a stand surrounded by dry leaves. MacKinnon uses this to wash away her makeup. The crime itself is staged simply, symbolically, and effectively.

Sound design is integrated with sublime precision thanks to Gareth Hobbs. Recorded voices take over the text at times, and the performance is infiltrated by a subtle but affecting soundtrack. A microphone is used to incredible effect to simulate taking advantage of someone.

The piece does not end with a neat conclusion, and nor should it. A brief post-show discussion is the only comfort for the audience. We leave once again through the exhibition, which takes on a new layer of poignancy.

This is a modern, cutting-edge take on Shakespeare presented with humility and respect. Highly recommended.

Filed under: ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts


Samuel Phillips is the Wellington theatre editor for The Lumière Reader. When he isn’t reviewing theatre he can be found making theatre with Wellington-based company, Bright Orange Walls, or studying at Victoria University of Wellington.