Debs Newbold has an engaging style, excellent stage presence and a good rapport with the audience that was sustained to the end of a long one-act play – if there is such a thing: in its current state, Outrageous Fortune goes beyond ninety minutes ‘straight through’. There are, of course, shows that go on for even longer without a break, the National Theatre’s Follies being a case in point, and the recent movie Avengers: Endgame had a running time of three hours and two minutes, without considering the twenty minutes of adverts and trailers before it at the cinema.
Newbold expressed some relief at the curtain call, although she did express a little trepidation at the start of the evening’s proceedings, by telling the audience that this is the first public performance of this show. As it is going to be broken down and reconstructed prior to going on tour, it’s fair to say that the full production is likely to look very different from what it is at this point. I’m not just talking about the set, though it is currently sparse, with some miming going on. Nothing wrong with miming, but it needs to be consistent – there’s a fully functioning kettle stage left but something as simple as a notebook is imagined elsewhere.
Set in Purgatory (or, to make the production to be as ecumenical as BBC Television’s Songs of Praise, the ‘Next Phase’ – that is, after death). Joan of Arc (c.1412-1431) pops round often, and as Newbold’s Gertrude (the Queen of Denmark in Shakespeare’s Hamlet) namedrops Amy Winehouse (1983-2011) it is reasonable to assume this imagined afterlife is set in the present day. Of all the questions Gertrude throws at Joan, the one I would have asked isn’t among them: what is someone canonised by the Vatican in 1920 still doing in Purgatory almost a century later? The answer perhaps lies in 2 Peter, chapter III, verse VIII, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” – or, to put it another way, the time-space continuum doesn’t really apply in Purgatory, let alone Heaven.
It’s also rather interesting that Joan spends an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen – I still don’t know what to make of it. My initial reaction was to ridicule the idea, as I trust that it isn’t the production’s intention to portray women as people who should stay at home and not pursue fulfilling careers. On the other hand, some people have made a good living from spending time in kitchens – catering and hospitality is big business.
It is some time before other characters from Hamlet are introduced. ‘Old Hamlet’ comes in, physically attacks Gertrude (albeit to no effect in the afterlife) and storms off again. There is, at least, a bit more of a meaningful conversation with the younger Hamlet, but I got the impression Gertrude much preferred the company of Joan. It’s also worth mentioning the show’s drummer, Luke Harney, who is kept busy throughout the evening. In the early scenes the drumming came across to me as a tad relentless and repetitive, bordering on irritating, but it became more nuanced as the play progressed.
There isn’t a script, in the sense that not every single line is pre-determined, which allows Newbold to adapt her storyboards dependent to the reactions of the audience, or indeed the lack thereof. Harney must respond accordingly in turn, which makes each performance more unique, well and truly different every night. Gertrude’s interactions with Joan as well as those with her immediate family could be examined more deeply, and that might mean losing one set of interactions as this production continues to develop, or otherwise gaining a second act. A good effort overall, with some food for thought, and I wish this show well.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Wife. Mother. Queen of Denmark. A mature, experienced woman whose power and intelligence is ridiculed by the men around her. In the 400 years since Hamlet was written, what, if anything, has changed?
Welcome to purgatory. Where everything we know about Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, is torn apart, reimagined and reclaimed for the 21st century in a funny, fierce and joyful act of revolution. There’ll be tea. There’ll be a visit from Joan of Arc. There’ll be a live drum score.
Fusing original narrative and Shakespearian verse with physicality and cacophonous sound, award-winning performance storyteller Debs Newbold places Shakespeare’s iconic text under a modern-day lens to offer an alternative perspective; putting a woman front and centre in this notorious story of male revenge.
Director John Wright and Debs Newbold
Music Producer Luke Harney
Cast Debs Newbold
Performance Date Thursday 30th May 2019
Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London, SE10 8ES