The Facebook event for Filthy Rick advertised the show to “people who love shakespeare, people who really don’t like shakespeare and think it should be abandoned in the name of a better future for Theatre, people who have always worried that they don’t understand shakespeare.” As an ESL from a third-world country who has never seen the word “Shakespeare” anywhere within any curriculum in my lifetime, I fit squarely in that last group. It was with that trepidation that I walked into the Guild Theatre and this review will be written with that perspective in mind.
Melbourne University Shakespeare Company’s Filthy Rick is said to be a loose adaptation of Richard III, examining how the characters within the play are “a bunch of shitcunts” according to director Rachel Shrives. Changes to the text included a character, The Gut, representing an earth that was sick of the characters in the play and “revolted”. The language and presentation of the show itself had departed far from the traditional Shakespearean, from some scenes retaining the original text but delivered in a contemporary way, to a whole section of the plot delivered through two white girls attending a yoga class. As the title and synopsis also suggested, explicit content were injected everywhere, including masturbation, expletives, and snapchat filters. They were in no way jarring to accept, due to my lack of understanding of the proper Shakespearean canon, and these scenes made the surreal juxtaposition of the play more believable.
From the beginning, the show embraced a very loose form that fitted to the black box that it was presented in. The audience were greeted to the theatre by the actors doing warm ups by the side of the stage that they would then act in, which is a square plot of sand, meant to represent the earth that would then rise up as The Gut. Actors had a video reel that introduced them as specific characters, though after the death of said character they would continue to be on stage as ensemble. With no curtains, the actors never truly went out of sight and in their moments off stage, they could be seen cheering on their friends, trying to catch a breath, or even checking messages on their phone. Even then, they remained very professional, and brought the characters to life, thanks to how their real-life personalities were injected into the characters within the show’s creation. The show itself moved swiftly from scene to scene, with no noticeable blackouts to signify transitions. The cast moved from the sandpit, to a small bed on one end of the pit, to a chair, highlighted by projections in the back and changing lights. It must be said that the sparse, party-aftermath set design and the lighting design was impeccable. Even the silhouettes of characters on the blank black box wall became an imposing figure, and it was impossible to ignore the effect of the great design to the play. It was obvious that, for all the supposed messiness the play was supposed to portray, it was done very neatly and tightly rehearsed.
As an ignorant newcomer to Shakespeare, Richard III seems like an imposing title to understand. The play is rife with political arguments and deep historical settings. Filthy Rick juxtaposed that as an analysis of the more horrible parts of human nature, a timeless theme that is then set on a modern day setting. While some parts of it remain firmly weird, like The Gut and its influence on the traditional Shakespearean characters, the mission to highlight the depravity original characters was a success. It was an enjoyable play, understandable by even the very unenlightened without being too moralistic or preachy, and was highly amusing in its own right. It is a solid work of art that is as good to watch as it is good to learn from, reminding you that everyone has their fuck-ups and at least, you can always try not to be as filthy as Richard III.
Rizqy Bayuaji Aryadi
MUSC’s production of Filthy Rick runs from the 5th – 14th of October in the Guild Theatre.