Monday night saw William Shatner kick off the Australian tour of his one-man show Shatner’s World: The Return Down Under in Perth. It was an evening of warmth, humour and philosophical musings. All. Delivered. In. That. Distinctive. Cadence.
However, it was also not without its surprises. For example, whilst Shatner is likely best known for his role as Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek and the accompanying movies, only a scant portion of the two hour show was devoted to his time with the show. Sure, there were references to it now and again, but those expecting extended anecdotes detailing life behind-the-scenes on the now iconic show and films will likely be left a little disappointed. It’s not the only omission, there’s no mention of T.J. Hooker either.
Shatner’s World is an autobiographical show, delivered, mostly in chronological order, through anecdotal vignettes, starting from Shatner’s youth in Montreal, through to his work on Boston Legal and his more recent (and forthcoming) musical endeavours. From the outset it is clear that Shatner knows how to tell a story. His pacing is masterful, he knows when to heighten the audience’s anticipation, to speed up, and he knows when to wait for the laugh: a skill he attributes in the show to watching the comedian Dick Shawn.
Through these various stories, anecdotes and vignettes we are given a deeper look into the man behind the iconic characters. We learn what initially motivated him to get into acting – a performance at a summer camp, which had the audience in tears, and earned his father’s approval. We also learn about his time with the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, where he worked under the director Tyrone Guthrie, and was initially Christopher Plummer’s understudy for the role of Henry V. Interestingly, the stories he tells are not always success stories, which only serves to endear him further to the audience. He forgets his lines, or the plays he’s in falls foul of critics and audiences. But, it is clear that these experiences were part of his apprenticeship, and formed him into the actor he is today. His distinctive cadence, he jokingly attributes to his experiences working on the Broadway show Tamburlaine.
The show also serves as a mini-history of the medium of television. Shatner, after all, is a television veteran, having appeared in numerous live television plays in the 1950’s. He spoke of the need to adapt to the new medium, and how the camera would unsettle even the most proficient actors. His reminiscences of working with Lon Chaney Jr on a tele-play where the famous character actor read the scene directions, rather than acting them out, was a particular highlight of the evening.
Although the show is presented largely in chronological order, it is not without interesting and surprising segues. An anecdote from his time working on the film Alexander The Great, for example, segued into his passion for all things equestrian, which then segued into a discussion of Star Trek. It was during this diversion, we learnt the finer intricacies of horse breeding, something which I was expecting come the start of the show. We also learnt how Shatner’s love of horses helped inform the way in which he would play Kirk’s death in Star Trek: Generations.
Shatner’s World also allowed for a brief exploration of the star’s musical career, which has a bit of a cult following. I’ll admit I was disappointed we didn’t get a rendition of his “Common People” cover. But, we were given a little more insight into how he came to work with Ben Folds. This portion of the evening also served as a little plug for some of his forthcoming projects – he’s got a Christmas record on the way! But it also brought the show a fitting close, with a rendition of “Real”, the song he wrote with Country music star Brad Paisley.
Shatner’s World is an entertaining, funny and utterly charming show. It’s also surprisingly philosophical, with the actor musing on life, love and humour. Whilst, the show delivers plenty of laughs, thanks to Shatner’s self deprecating humour and his delivery, there are more than a few poignant and moving moments too – especially when talking about his relationship with his father, his family and his horses. Shatner’s World is less about the characters he’s made famous, and more about the man behind them. It’s a show that celebrates taking life’s opportunities, saying yes, and embracing all the craziness that happens along the way.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Shatner’s World: The Return Down Under moves onto the State Theatre, Sydney tonight before finishing up at Melbourne’s Art Centre on Thursday Oct 11th. For more information and tickets click HERE
The reviewer attended the performance at Perth Concert Hall on Monday 8th October.