Shakespeare Republic Series (Shakespeare Republic, 2015-2017)
The Shakespeare Republic Series is a different sort of Literary-Inspired Web Series to the ones I have previously reviewed here on this blog, but it is one that I have very much enjoyed watching throughout Seasons One and Two. I will admit that the draw of the series for me initially was seeing the involvement of Alan Fletcher, who played Karl Kennedy in Neighbours, but I quickly grew to love this passion project from the group of Australia-based actors who simply want to celebrate Shakespeare. Whilst one of the most obvious advantages of web series is the opportunities it affords to amateur and upcoming creatives, Shakespeare Republic shows another perspective: it also gives professionals the opportunity to explore things they are passionate about in a different media.
Rather than adapting an entire Shakespeare play, Shakespeare Republic takes individual monologues from the plays and interprets them into a modern-day setting, though keeping the original language. The episodes are stand-alone, although there are some links, particularly between the Season Two episodes; each episode focuses on one monologue, relying on the skill of the actors to bring to life the rich characters of Shakespeare’s words in so few lines. From the inspiring, to the manipulating, to the distraught, to the comedic, the series includes a wide range of monologues that does not simply use the most popular ones from each play.
Although each episode is just a glimpse into each character, the series does a wonderful job of creating an entire world to bring context to the monologue. The audience is given details about the characters’ back stories through the sets, the props, and the movements of the actors; from that foundation, there is space to imagine the situations that have come before and after this moment in the character’s life. Everything about the production of the series serves to bring to life a world, eerily echoing our own reality, in which power, love, and loss permeate the backdrop of every character.
My favourite episodes were Michala Banas’ stellar episodes in both Seasons One and Two, portraying As You Like It’s Phebe and Hamlet’s eponymous character, as well as Christopher Kirby’s fantastic episode in which he portrays Thomas More in a speech from Shakespeare’s revisions of the Elizabethan biographical play Sir Thomas More. Banas’ Phebe is by far one of the funniest episodes, as she drunkenly protests that she is not in love with Ganymede: it was actually this episode which reminded me that I needed to read As You Like It, now one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Her turn as Hamlet is a complete contrast, as she emotionally questions the very nature of humanity, full of a despair that is clearly visible to the audience. Kirby’s Thomas More is a timely, inspiring, and emotional episode in which he argues the case for kindness to refugees to a room full of politicians: I had to sit for a few minutes after this episode had aired to process just how strong an impact it has in our current political climate.
This is a wonderful series, that is perfect to just dip in and out of whenever you feel the need to watch some Shakespeare. It is funny, emotional, and thought-provoking, providing a unique take on words that many would write off as irrelevant or old-fashioned: as a fan of Shakespeare, this was a fantastic celebration of his work that I very much enjoyed. I would definitely recommend it to any fan of Shakespeare’s works, and I believe it would be a great starting point for Shakespeare sceptics to see exactly how full of life his writing is. Either way, it is definitely worth a watch of at least a few of these short episodes.