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Updated: Mar 9

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So often over the past twenty-five years I have heard colleagues say they wouldn't come to my productions of Shakespeare because they were turned off Shakespeare so much while they were at school. I hear this even from some English teachers while administrators have also made this suggestion. So if this is coming from people close to me, I can only estimate how much this sentiment might be endemic within the wider community. I've had students decide Harry Potter was more relevant than anything Shakespeare did and other students deciding they could do better anyway and so bugger off Shakespeare.

And yes, he is a dead white male and no doubt privileged! Yes, all his actors were men; some of whom played women. Yes, he's been dead a while ... so why should we pay homage to this ancient dated and socially irrelevant arse whose grammar was awkward and any contemporary dramaturg would suggest he change most of his plots and do massive rewrites! Why aren't students forced to study ancient Asian playwrights, ancient indigenous writings from around the world that have had a huge influence on contemporary art, literature and culture? Why aren't we simply cancelling Shakespeare and adopting the works of whatever contemporary writer has sway ... maybe Clementine Ford or her opposite in Jordan Peterson! Maybe even cancel all European inspired and prepared literature and art from both male and female creators because of their racial and cultural bias and only study factual art that was made by non-European male, female and non-binary individuals!

Better still, why not cancel the very notion of art and the creative imagination because of its potentially decadent, subversive, sexist and appropriating nature. Why not find a way to remove from all memory all artistic works created prior to 2023? Cancel the Beatles, Keats, Wilde, Artaud, Brecht, Mary Shelley, Pina Bausch, Carol Churchill ... and of course, Shakespeare! You get the picture!!! Fuck off all these Racist, homophobic, sexist and patriarchal pricks ... They were all constricted by constructed reality viewpoints imposed by imperialist strictures under which none were even vaguely aware of ... Hmmm ...

Ahhhhhhhhhh ...

Shakespeare was a moment in history. That moment saw an incredible distillation of ideas, historical development and sheer audacity in cultural events that resulted in immediate persecutions of participants and also the exhilaration of artistic potential that resulted in people taking seriously the words of the licensed fool ... or the ALL LICENSED FOOL. And this point is one of the lasting and most significant yet under-valued points that Shakespeare actually raised in his work:

the role of art, artistry and literature as that of the cultural and social "all licensed fool".

We see the Fool as the Elizabethan equivalent of a comedian commentator. Yet art is its own FOOL! Art, literature, theatre and all artistic expression is a counter to all dogmas and agendas that seek to impose the WILL of some particular beholders of a given belief system on everyone. It is oppositional. But it can be manipulated to conform.

The New Propensity to Bowdlerise Theatre and Art

Thomas Bowdler two hundred years ago published bastardized versions of Shakespeare's plays removing what he considered to be offensive words. It seems in a world of cancelling and smug righteousness that a new bowdlerising is taking place. New Puritans have adopted the Fascist mode of decrying and disappearing that which is deemed decadent. While we haven't as yet seen museums devoted to the disappeared arts of the past with psychologists giving lectures on how the arts indicated mental illness and generally depraved minds; one can't be sure it isn't on some agenda from well-meaning left-wing fascists of the future!

So How Does Cressida Explain this Phenomena?

"Troilus and Cressida" is perhaps Shakespeare's most phenomenal play. It is deceptive on all counts and seems just an awkward and perhaps a flawed and unfocused work. However, on a closer study and when working on it, we discover it features all the social and political dimensions that have followed since the time of Shakespeare.

Cressida seems to be the victim of patriarchy and political intrigue. She is certainly traded as a commodity. However, we see all characters in "Troilus and Cressida" as traded for their own images. The very notion of war is a fabrication of narcissistic ego-driven constructivists; people who shape the belief systems into duties, honour and death!

Shakespeare's Cressida says: "But with my heart the other eye doth see.

Ah, poor our sex! this fault in us I find, The error of our eye directs our mind."

Cressida will fabricate a new reality as she leaves her naïve love and sexual attraction to a prince Troilus behind. She is the very opposite of the girl falling for the fairy-tale prince and the happy ever-after. For Cressida, sex is not a dirty word; though she recognises its potential devastating potential to destroy. In moving forward for a sexual relationship with a Greek trader, she never cancels her past dabbling in romantic love; however she recognises it as just as illusory, if not more so, than the arranged sexual partnering that is part of her father's deal. She is just like "your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass" ... etc. as suggested in the "bible".

Cressida's world is desolate and isolated. She is that lone woman along with the "manservant, maidservant, ox, and ass". She understands the absurdity of her situation and the whole situation of war and ego.

No other character in Shakespeare's works has ever done this. And she survives. Her reputation as a whore lingers on because she doesn't act like a victim.

How contemporary is this?

The Contemporary World of Shakespeare

Cressida recognizes the disturbing features of family, culture and destiny. These three disparate and nasty circles of her life then do not place her in some kind of social straitjacket. Rather she finds the way to manipulate them all. She would never believe the advice of her friends that it is OK to step into the cage with a wild tiger and not expect to be eaten; and then decry that tigers have got no right to kill young Cressida who steps into their cages ...

While most of Shakespeare follows fairly linear pathways and directions within the plays, "Troilus and Cressida" works on a substantially vertical plane. The plot is rambling. However, it details a psychological presence that baffles and even challenges the contemporary mindset. Troilus is a decent enough young guy brought up in a privileged white environment with his brothers and a particularly strange sister in Cassandra. But the power of Cressida is over-whelming and he is like a rabbit in the spot as it is about to be killed. He is frozen and totally confused by his object of obsession and naïve love.

Shakespeare as Absurdist

So before the moral fascist hacks begin cancelling Shakespeare, perhaps it is time to realign his work with the Absurdists. It isn't the theatrical form that is Absurdist in the way Beckett is absurdist; it is his views on the nature of the human condition that are essentially and culturally absurdist! And "Troilus and Cressida" is the most significant of his works. Cressida is the essential Absurdist recogniser. She knows the absurd situation could easily have her killed. In recognising the nature of her plight and even her own emotions, she is able to survive and possibly survive as well as any of her peers.

Troilus, on the other hand, is so locked into a sincere and honorable reality he can never see beyond the crap of his own straitjacket. He is doomed. This is his tragedy. His brothers are doomed. His father is doomed. His mother will see her grandson murdered by Greek hacks carrying out the orders of their masters (though not specifically seen in this play).

Shakespeare borrowed extensively from Greek plays and mythology. Yet he treated the subjects with very little respect in order to shape his own vision of humanity. Perhaps Shakespeare needs to be studied as a marker of original thought more so than as a master of literature and art. He survived cancelling and execution by being able to adapt to circumstances; often very dangerous circumstances! Very cleverly, he created a female character in Cressida who had to negotiate her own survival having also survived the cruel family situation that might well have destroyed most people. In some respects, this paralleled his own dire situation in an absurd pre-Bowdlerised world ...

Joe Woodward

Bookings can now be made for the 2023 DTC production of: TROILUS AND CRESSIDA by William Shakespeare.

There is a bar and some audience interaction with the cast. Don't expect the usual Shakespeare as this production approaches the work as if it has never been done before. It is a unique and very exciting approach to Shakespeare and one of his most problematic and least performed plays.

The production isn't about giving kiddies sticky gold stars. Rather it is about students and professional practitioners tapping insights and potential for presenting a work by one of the most essential contributors to Western Culture and Civilisation. In some respects it is Shakespeare negotiating his existence in a pre Bowdlerised world. Join DTC for an experience of Shakespeare's most contemporary and profound plays ... BOOK HERE

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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

image from Stefan Keller

We all seek equilibrium in our lives. The artist however seeks to disrupt that equilibrium.

Even the funny guy who tells stupid jokes to fascist audiences in community halls in order to survive and actually live, knows that to keep going, they need to produce moments that effect un-censored laughter and response.

So if theatre is to remain relevant for any culture and not simply amplify the affirmation of dominant cultural ideologies of the Left and of the Right, then it needs to master the ability to break the equilibrium of dominant and authoritarian thought that threatens each individual who participates in and adheres to a presence in theatre presentation. We need to acknowledge that many in our audience might well be comfortable in a Mussolini inspired rally. Do we admonish them for this? I suggest not! But our work needs to be capable of escaping from the equilibrium of gravitation towards conservative and even fascist values.

So wipe that smirk of your face

You will most probably disagree with much of what I present here.

Jesus is quoted as saying:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” (Matthew 10:34-36).

The statement is a truth about how any shaking of equilibrium will cause disruption to one's personal life; any breaking of the unseen flow of "how things are" is going to bring crises to personal relationships and one's own ease of existing. Let's face it; "peace" is not necessarily equilibrium. Once an equilibrium is reached there may well be a kind of false peace; a peace where there are smiles all round disguising the reality of submission, abuse and even enslavement.

Art and the Seeking of One's Own Death

Is it so outlandish to suggest that the only goal of an artist and a creator is to seek the avenue of one's own death; the obliteration of self both on a physical and a spiritual level? This is the ultimate shaking and obliteration of any equilibrium. In disrupting of the equilibrium is one really advancing the march towards mortality and the disappearing of self into the nothingness of time? And if we think this is simply a semantic trick of wordplay, then consider the narcissistic Dorian Gray who demands reality be put on hold as reality becomes a fake image; one's own reality is but the image one creates of oneself and presents to others? While all the time the real self decays in a cupboard of one's own anxiety and never-acknowledged decrepitude!

The young brilliant artist who has been sold lies that they can be whatever they choose and their masters are never challenged ... consider the neurosis of such a person! Consider the logical syllogism of such an existence where fantasy and illusion are given academic credence that only hastens the drift into the institutional control that is the ultimate prison for such crimes. Consider how YOU contribute to this enforced destruction of such brilliance and such potential while adhering to the cultural Narcissism that is the dominant cartoon picture of the age! Consider all this and then decide if death actually exists or if there is some alternative name and some semantic game that can supplant the finality that is such necessity! The ultimate insanity would be to scream aloud that Death is simply a passing faze and that it was socially constructed to support the dominant ideology of the age!

But the artist, if indeed there is still such a figure, will challenge the semantics of ideological death and be prepared for the burning of the flesh and the arrow to the heart and the shaming by the multitudes who throw rotten fruit at the head in the stocks in some equivalent of the medieval shaming or the cultural revolutionaries who pandar to the dictates of the little red booklets ... such artists will challenge semantics of smiling crocodile sincerities who claim with all sincerity their love of humanity and proclaim their victim-hoods as shields and advance weapons to quell any claims of reason and rationality.

The Devils

The smiling persuaders of contemporary life and their political effectiveness has never been more accurately portrayed in film than in Ken Russel's "The Devils". Click on the link if you haven't seen it. A most flawed character with insight and an ability to learn and revise wasted years yet who has an ability to rise above the sanctimonious certainty of agenderists using their persuasive muscle to achieve their political and social aims is depicted with such succinct clarity that will make you shiver.

The depiction of the smiling passive-aggressive activist for the dominant political / religious hegemony is so disturbing and cynical. Yet the movie is about the past while being prophetic of the future.

I hear a ten year old girl proclaim this week that she hates all white American males; said as a matter of fact because she sees "whiteness as evil", yet she is a white Australian child. Where does this notion come from? The Devils use whatever it takes to encourage racist wars of mutual destruction.

Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel "Demons" portrays irrational and idealistic forces "portrayed in their ordinary human weakness, drawn into the world of destructive ideas through vanity, naïveté, idealism, and the susceptibility of youth ..." (WIKIPEDIA accessed 23 Feb 2023) The more conservative leaning former radical Dostoevsky sees the possibility of rational discussion actually being a neurotic tool for irrational action.

1971 University Of Queensland Students' Union Meeting

The Springboks Rugby Union team was coming to Brisbane. The Anti-Apartheid action was organized to protest. I was newly elected as an Education Rep on the University of Queensland students' union. I was also a Rugby Union referee and was scheduled to referee a curtain raiser to the Australia vs The Springboks test. Prior to a meeting of the Students' Union, I remember being in the Uni Refec and a number of radical students had returned from the Regatta Hotel where a demonstration had ended up. Someone in the room shouted that Dan O'Neill, a prominent and radical English lecturer at the University had been arrested. Some clown in the audience, obviously misreading the significance of such a statement, made a joke of the announcement. To his horror, a number of student shouted him down and surrounded him as if to beat the crap out of him ... luckily this did not happen. But the potential violence in the moment was very evident.

In that week a number of students painted their faces black supposedly in solidarity with black Africans. This wasn't seen as insulting. In fact they were sincerely trying to show solidarity with the oppressed South African population who were true victims of racism and horrific laws that made them less than second-class citizens of their own country. Thirty years later all of these students would decry and denounce "black face" under any circumstances. People would be surprised to learn of exactly who these students were as some become quite famous in later years.

The equilibrium of Queensland society was being disrupted by symbolic actions of activists donning theatrical and symbolic demonstrations counter to the dominant ideological tentacles of the time. Growing from this time was a radical theatre movement in Brisbane that saw places like La Boite Theatre and the university's output in The Popular Theatre Troupe. Janet Mahoney, later well known as Janet Fielding who played Tegan in Dr Who, had earlier donned the black face in demonstrations against Apartheid and then became active with Errol O'Neill and Richard Fotheringham in the Popular Theatre Troupe as it toured the UK. Theatre in the 1970s was a potent weapon against fascist tendencies in Queensland society and politics. This wasn't simply because of the content of its offering. That was generally fairly conservative. But it spawned a generation of activists who were willing to step outside of the acceptable compliancy within the social contract of citizen and state.

Theatre and a Death Wish

It is easy to be radical and even hostile to your society, community and family when you are part of a scene or part of a dominant artistic and social movement. But this begs the question of what if you are not? What if your perceptions, observations, inane or innate and very core understandings challenge the peer-sanctioned viewpoints that you might generally support but which cause severe and major questioning and doubts? Chances are you will be a gutless arse and surrender. Chances are you will sacrifice your feelings and considerations in order to achieve sanctioning rather than suffer crucifixion on the altar of correctness according the gospels of the anointed!

So we come back to theatre, art and death! The charlatan artist will appeal to the coterie of sanctioned artistic work that might well be antagonistic to the dominant hegemonies of a time. But this very sanctioning is the problem. The non-charlatan artist is likely to probe the sanctioned art and sanctioned position of even one's own social and political stances. And ultimately this requires a commitment to Death!

Joe Woodward 23 Feb 2023

See also: a student movie directed by Joe Woodward made on a zero budget

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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

The incredible abstraction of being ...

I always loved the title of Milan Kundera's novel "The Incredible Lightness of Being". I love the book and enjoyed the movie. The beautiful thing about it was that I never understood what the writer was trying to say and what the movie was really about. On the surface it was about very petty people living slavishly very petty lives ... and I hated them. Yet it was more!

Yet the title stayed with me.

That connection between self and literature or self and art is a very personal relationship. Personal! Yet the only connection that is worth anything in the universe! The love one shares is at best ephemeral like the relationship between the audience and the actors in a live performance. It dies at the moment of its creation. The sex that drives the human race to propagate its species is simply part of the necessary drive that moves individuals to fuck, rape, devour each other and eat the psyche of one and other to the point of genocide.

The Russian theatre guru "Stanislavski" has been coopted as an American to legitimize its cultural hegemony through film and cinematic style. The heroes of the 1950s, a decade of sanctification of American domination throughout the known universe, have been banded on to the skin of theatre practitioners ever since. The American aesthetic of theatre arts has never questioned the iconic reverence towards Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Marlon Brando et al. However, very talented people does not equal a system of signifiers. American playwriting, American films and American acting techniques do not summarize the potential for living representations in art.

Stanislavski might have provided the basic theoretical platform for film acting. But the most significant element of Stanislavski' was his doubts about his work as exemplified in Meyerhold's influence through the later moments in his life. The horrible intrusions into the Russian Stanislavski that were seen in American appropriations of his work have permeated into the Australian theatre scene. The glib referencing of Stanislavski in theatre is obscene. Stalin had Meyerhold murdered. Stanislavski might well have been also killed but died meantime. But now the mediocre minds of Stanislavski followers have created a messianic style attachment to their hero.

So in our highly programmed and technological age is it possible to create paradigms for performance that don't simply signify and promote the dominant paradigms of our proclivities as citizens within communities and extended families?

While film makers like Peter Greenaway certainly challenge the predominant world views, it is difficult to see where creative talents have challenged the strait jackets of cultural and agenda-based creative outputs in cinema and theatre.

If per chance you want to do this: ie. challenge the cultural domination of arts and artistic practice, then Antonin Artaud is a valuable starting point as is Shakespeare's fool (in King Lear) OR Thersites in "Troilus and Cressida. Both these "fools" work as oppositional figures drawing attention to the absurdities of the powers that be around them. Artaud's defiance of socialist and communist masters through his break with the Surrealist movement epitomizes the individual's "fool" contrasting his own generalized attachment to the cultural milieu of his time. It was a source of much condemnation and accusations of individualism; Artaud was probably closer to forms of anarcho-syndicalism than socialism of the 1920s; although I am sure Artaud would scream at me for suggesting such a thought!

But the artist isn't the one responsible for making the social contract; the structuring of resources and the shaping of society. So the artist doesn't need the whole picture. The artist makes a poor politician. The artist does need to be constantly dissatisfied with the way things are; the only balance one can achieve is in the struggle to SEE and to shape that perception in a form that can be communicated. Such form and such shape may very often be antagonistic and critical. The actor takes a text or an idea for a text and gives physical shape to a sculpture in a space; a sculpture that might well be interacting with other sculptures ... if not, then with an audience. The designer, director, writer assist in the construction of realities that give vent to the actor's potential to shape and jolt the known cultural and social perceptions.

The actor cannot be afraid of liminality; that ambiguous in-between state that exists between stages of development; even between the actor and the act or the self and the character or the performance and the audience ... etc. And this is where Antonin Artaud is significant. The total theatre concept blasts through separations and demarcations whilst acknowledging all of them. Surrealism acknowledges the very specific and subjective nature of all reality; dreams influencing reality and the subjective craving for personal significance within an absurd and insignificant world. Yet it also takes on the pain of real suffering as a result of this absurdity and the lies that contribute to static structures of control that bend human spirit to mediocre wills and base perceptions. As art it uses the liminal state of the actor and act to try and upset the equilibrium of oppression and authoritarian controls ... No wonder much of the offering is quite dark in delivery; why its main enemy might well be the US affirming world of Disney and Nero's "Bread and circuses"!

Joe Woodward


You are tired of seeing English and American Affirmations through their theatre offerings and their Australian surrogates? Want to experience something refreshing ... and yes, this isn't acting training for untalented or the talented ... it's liminal experience ... perhaps linked to some of Antonin Artaud's thinking ... but will take place on Fri 10 February at 8.00pm. I won't tell you WHERE until you let me know you are interested in this Shadow House PITS offering ... Only can take a handful of participants ... so if you are keen on the idea of liminal performance and perhaps surrealism ... just email shadowhousepitswrite at


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