The structure of the show reinforces its message. Initially I thought the show struggled with pacing and flow but then realised it was utterly inline thematically. For example, I expect the show to close with Dussler continuing her Much Ado About Nothing speech to neatly bookend the performance. Near the end Dussler begins this monologue, leading us to expect a conclusion, but then another scene follows. The anticipation of the false ending gives us the feeling that the play is dragging its feet, drawing our attention to the heaviness of its progression forward.
Likewise, some of the scenes drag on with phrases repeated again and again for impact. I wondered why we were seeing the same scene performed 6 different times - surely the audience had got the point? But that feeling of fatigue and disbelief is precisely what Shitspeare is getting at. We see women killed or raped or mistreated again and again. How many times does it have to happen? Shouldn’t we understand by now? If the show fails to move quickly enough, it is only to replicate the real world.
Some scenes that explore the more overt sexism in Shakepeare’s work could have done with a lighter touch. In a scene based on Taming of the Shrew we see a montage of a couple on their wedding day. The man is loud and drunk, repeating some of Shakespeare’s more cringe worthy phrases. Petruchio says of his wife, ‘She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house’. The woman is sweet, but frail and passive by comparison. Between the stereotypical characters, big theatrical performances, and direct language I feel like we lose the nuance and the scene feels less relatable.
Much more interesting to me is a scene near the end of the Taming of the Shrew segment where Petruchio forces his wife Kate to agree with him that the sun in the sky is actually the moon. When she gives in to him, Petruchio mocks her. The scene reeks of gaslighting and hits disturbingly close to home. I would have loved to see this more fully explored.
The standout scene of the show is based on Othello’s murder of Desdemona. The cast, (Ari Leason, Parekawa Finlay, Stevie Metin and Maria Dussler) take to the stage dressed for a funeral. We hear Desdemona repeating her declarations of love again and again, ‘His unkindness may defeat my life. But never taint my love.’ Shakespeare’s words are interspersed with Te Ao Māori. The overall effect is heartbreaking and deeply resonates. It serves as a painful reminder that New Zealand has the highest rate of reported intimate partner violence in the developed world.
Shitspeare ends on the line ‘If I had my mouth, I would bite’ which is a perfect conclusion. This show is a passionate expression of injustice that refuses to sit down and shut up. Sarah Delahunty and the Shitspeare collective present an important message here that desperately needs to be heard.
Shitspeare is playing at BATS until the 20th of March as part of the Fringe Festival. Book your tickets here.