Printable CopyCHEAPSIDE
Butterfly Theatre
Wheatsheaf Hotel
Until 24 Jan 2019

Review by Paige Mulholland

If you’re at the Wheaty one night after work, chances are you’re not there to see a play. You might be there to down a few beers or see a local band, but the only drama you’ll see is the battle for a barstool. Or at least, on a usual night. Once Butterfly Theatre get involved, the beer garden becomes an al fresco theatre, and there’s a whole different kind of drama to follow.

Butterfly Theatre’s “Cheapside” is the story of Shakespeare and his contemporaries (think “Shakespeare in Love” except modernised, with a lot less love and a lot more plague). The play focuses on the playwright Robert Greene, whose alcoholism and refusal to network or seek patronage, as well as the competition from the young upstart Will Shakespeare, have left him in need of a quick buck. His well-connected friend Kit Marlowe gives him an easy, but morally-questionable, task to earn what he needs, but the task has political consequences that neither of the two could have foreseen.

The show is engaging and full of humour, drama and intrigue, but it’s also wordy and full of twists that can make it hard to follow – problems that are exacerbated by the hubbub, traffic, low-flying planes, light and general distraction that comes with pub theatre. Pub theatre is a great concept, but it needs the right play to match it; if the play were more familiar or had plainer dialogue, it would fare better. There are many ways in which “Cheapside” is a great choice – the grungy aesthetic, alcoholic characters and the fact that many of the scenes are actually set in a pub – but the complexity of the script makes it tough for the actors to keep the audience engaged.

That said, if anyone was up to the task, it would be these actors. Even with a few stumbles over the wordy dialogue, the ensemble all developed their characters to a very high standard. Leah Lowe and Cheryl Douglas both played multiple characters and did excellent jobs of making each character distinct, realistic and easily identifiable. Brant Eustice portrays Robert Greene and his mental and physical downturn with sensitivity and dynamism, and Jay Somers easily won the audience over as the plucky Cutting Ball in his adult theatre debut.

If you’d like to add a little intellectual and artistic stimulation to your average night at the pub, go see “Cheapside”. It’s not a walk in the park, but the acting is excellent, the atmosphere is fun, and walking in the park while holding a beer is probably a bad idea anyway.