Unlacing Shakespeare’s women: the Bard goes burlesque at the Capitol Theatre

Shakespeare’s Sirens: A Burlesque Revue, Send in the Girls Burlesque. Photo by db photographics.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Think of them as the ultimate theatre buffs: reveals are their speciality.

Send In The Girls Burlesque comes to the stage of Fort Edmonton Park’s vintage Capitol Theatre Friday and Saturday, in honour of Alberta Culture Days. Their hit 2016 Shakespeare’s Sirens: A Burlesque Revue uncorsets the women characters of Shakespeare’s plays, and flings off gender cover-ups.

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Send in the Girls have directed their unusual historical bent, their satirical pizzaz, flamboyant performance style, and sassy sense of humour at such diverse and unexpected subjects as the multiple wives of Henry VIII (Tudor Queens: A Burlesque), the laced-up Victorian literati (A Bronte Burlesque), the women of the Wild West (Soiled Doves), even the unsung women of Canadian history (With Glowing Hearts). With Shakespeare’s Sirens, they unbutton the Bard’s women.

That gallery is a rich vein of burlesque inspiration, from resourceful take-charge types like Rosalind, Viola, Beatrice, or Lady Macbeth to the more demure and put-upon end of the female gallery. 

Admit it, doesn’t it get your goat when the shrew gets “tamed” and makes a speech about the joy of being submissive to men at the end of that roistering Shakespeare comedy? Haven’t you secretly fantasized about giving Ophelia a good shake when her dad makes her plot against her screwed-up boyfriend and she says ‘OK, whatever you say’ (or words to that effect)? And naturally her boyfriend gets really pissed off at her and she just takes it? And let’s not even get into the seduction technique of Richard III with the widows of men he’s assassinated. 

Anyhow, that’s why Queen Elizabeth I (Morgan Smith), a woman in a man’s world and no shrinking violet as history has confirmed, has hauled Will Shakespeare (C.J. Rowein) into court … to account for his female characters. As Ellen Chorley, Send In The Girls’ resident playwright puts it, “she’s asking him ‘what have you got to say for yourself?’”

Chorley, who wrote the script with Smith and Rowein, argues that the female characters who change the course of the plays they’re in, reveal the most chutzpah when they’re in male disguise. In Shakespeare’s Sirens, there’s an all-star a number with Shakespeare’s cross-dressing heroines together onstage: Viola (from Twelfth Night), Portia (from The Merchant of Venice), Rosalind (from As You Like It), and Imogen (from Cymbeline).

There’s a number with Hermia, who has a knockdown brawl with Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The bad girls get down: the witches from Macbeth “really lend themselves to burlesque storytelling — sensual powerful, satirical,” says Chorley. There a duet between Beatrice and Hero, high-contrast cousins from Much Ado About Nothing.

Cordelia from King Lear and  Katerina the “shrew” are in the show. Juliet has her own number; so do the fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chorley herself plays Ophelia, Hamlet’s squeeze. “What I tried to do with her is show show she does Hamlet’s emotional labour for him when he shuts everyone out.”

“It’s a different way of exploring the Bard’s work,” laughs Chorley. “And it’s so much fun.” The musical choices for burlesque numbers are  always amusing in Send in the Girls shows. You’ll hear a wide range in Shakespeare’s Sirens: ’90s pop, 1940s ballads…. The cross-dressing heroines perform to the music of boy bands like the Back Street Boys. For Ophelia Chorley picked a song about going down to the river and praying.

“Whether you love Shakespeare or hate him from high school (encounters), there’s something for everybody!” says Chorley. And the Capitol Theatre, a beautifully restored n old restored old vaudeville house, is “a really good match” for the retro spirit of burlesque. 

PREVIEW

Shakespeare’s Sirens: A Burlesque Revue

Theatre: Send in the Girls Burlesque

Written by: Ellen Chorley with Morgan Smith and C.J. Rowein

Starring: Delia Barnett, Ellen Chorley, Sarah Jackson, Sydney Parcey, C.J. Rowein, Morgan Smith

Running: Friday and Saturday

Tickets: fortedmontonpark.ca

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