This Rose Has Thorns | BUSTCO
In Bustco’s world premiere of Dwayne Yancey’s play, two young noble women receive letters from their boyfriends that they’ve been locked in the Tower of London. They set off – Rose, eagerly, and Lily, not so eagerly – to rescue them, disguising themselves in men’s clothes as they run into con men, forest hermits, bumbling policemen and love triangles.
Yancey’s script takes inspiration in tropes and tone from across much of the Shakespeare canon, including but not limited to As You Like It, Richard III, King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing and in-universe allusions to Romeo and Juliet. In addition, it plays with references from across a wide range of history and pop culture, from character names and dance breaks to the spaghetti western feel in the later standoffs, and Julia Slater-Allan’s truly stunning promotional artwork.
There’s a sense of improv across the whole production, especially in the thinness of the forth wall and the regular winks to the audience. With a willingness to roll with whatever is thrown at them, it’s sometimes difficult to tell how much is staged and how much is the unique drama of the night. Ashlee Lambton and Bianca Heard play off each other well as protagonists Rose and Lily, and between their look and characterisation I couldn’t help but be reminded of Game of Throne’s Sansa and Arya through much of the show; their sibling dynamic feels very genuine. Michael Young and Sam Corr are also scene-stealers as con men Percy and Toby as they’re roped into the girls’ quest of deception and disguise with varying levels of enthusiasm.
The romantic subplot of the flirtatious servant Phoebe (Melanie Thoren) going between her puritan mistress Lady Edwina (Tia Hogan) and Mayor Diddlespoon (Jordan McGowan) feels almost as akin to commedia dell’arte as it is to Shakespearean comedy, and ties in well with the other subplot of Nick Sidari’s bumbling Constable.
Much of the performance’s strength is not just its allusions to theatre within the script, but to the experience of producing theatre itself that can be seen in every aspect of the production.
Perhaps partially due to my own bias due to spending most of my time in theatre backstage, one of the highlights for me was the integration of the theatre techs into the story. While the device has become more prominent, often it’s in a more polished controlled form, with the stage crew taking on a role closer to actors. While on the more dramatic side, here the gleeful chaos of the backstage world is put directly under the lights. Trying to fix the set onstage while actors monologue, playing around with props, accidentally dying, being caught on stage with snacks; the usual crew day.
Styling the production closer to rehearsals or production week also extends to the design. The costumes, sourced individually by the actors have some highlights, including Rose and Lady Edwina’s costumes, and manage to maintain a sense of visual cohesion while also playing into the mishmashed vibe of the performance. Monique Bronte Lautier’s fight choreography is an achievement both visually and practically, not only having half of a very large cast onstage and fighting and even having swords versus knitting needles, but having a decent portion of them using genuine fencing swords with minimal losses to each other’s eyes. The gimmicks with the props and Steve Karandais’ set are also hilarious, most notably the less than secure stocks Toby and Percy find themselves in, and the opening scene with Rose moving her vast weapons collection into a tiny bag while also not skewering the stage tech beneath it. Despite their proud advertisement of crappy sets, some of Karandais’ painted set pieces are very well designed; but perhaps more importantly for the show, really aid in its dynamic feel, especially with the lit stage transitions.
Much of the performance’s strength is not just its allusions to theatre within the script, but to the experience of producing theatre itself that can be seen in every aspect of the production. With the mid-show damage control, backstage chaos, and moments of improv and in-jokes that often never see the light of day, Yancey, Jennings and the whole company bring much of world of the rehearsal and production week directly to the audience.