Review: Shakespeare’s Reservoir Dogs (The Vanguard)

reservoirdogsVenue: The Vanguard (Newtown NSW), Apr 29 – May 2, 2014
Playright: Steven Hopley (based on the screenplay by Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino)
Director: Steven Hopley
Actors: Chris Miller, Richard Hilliar, Diego AR Melo, Lukasz Embart, Jerry Retford, Patrick Magee, Leof Kingsford-Smith, Anthony Campanella, Dominic Santangelo

Theatre review
Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 film debut, Reservoir Dogs established him early on as a popular new auteur. Combining violence, humour, popular culture references and non-linear narratives, Tarantino’s distinctive and refreshing style captured the attention of many, and the film has now garnered cult classic status. Steven Hopley’s new adaptation is a faithful yet radical retelling, keeping characters and events intact, but transposing all the “colourful” language of the original into the style of William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s Reservoir Dogs script is a thorough rejuvenation that shows an unusual flair and love for the Bard. Hopley’s direction of his own writing is mindful of audiences that might find the new text challenging, taking great care to utilise all his actors’ capacities to stage a show that is surprisingly accessible. This staging understandably features less of the film’s memorable ultra-violence, but its elements of humour are played up considerably to great effect. Hopley does not shy away from opportunities to make light of this “self-parody”. Management of the unconventional timeline is slightly flawed, but the constant referencing of Tarantino’s film is handled with remarkable sophistication, and for fans of the original in particular, this new staging is tremendous fun.

The cast amassed by Hopley and producer Russall S. Beattie is an impressive one. Full of passion and commitment, the men are individually strong performers who have managed to find excellent chemistry within their group. Chris Miller’s playfully flamboyant performance as Sir White provides a firm anchor for the production. He shows a genuine affinity for the material at hand, and is wonderfully entertaining in his enthusiasm. Richard Hilliar, in the role of Sir Orange, has a presence that is consistently dynamic. The actor has an engaging charm and an understated approach to comedy that is delightfully amusing. Anthony Campanella has a memorable soliloquy that he executes with outlandish gusto. His ability to communicate meaning with his Shakespearean lines is second to none. A crowd favourite is the show’s troubadour, played by Dominic Santangelo. He has a license to play the fool, and is clearly not afraid to use it.

Also noteworthy is Tristan Coumbe’s work as costume designer. Tribute is paid to the film’s unforgettable imagery, of characters in black suits and white shirts. Coumbe’s Tudor style interpretations using modern fabrics, including black leather, contribute not only to the players’ believability, they also convey an interesting sense of time and space in the absence of set pieces. The costumes’ contemporary, sexy edge is a good reflection of the show’s boisterous irreverence.

Familiarity with the film is not necessary, but it would certainly help with enjoyment of this “update”. Many in attendance on opening night responded buoyantly to recreations of classic scenes and celebrated lines. Nostalgia in the air was evident. For those less au fait with Tarantino’s work, the quality of performance by this exceptional ensemble is more than adequate to please any discerning theatregoer.