Shakespeare’s Mad Women sees Ophelia (Gabrielle Pausey) of Hamlet and Lady Macbeth (Holly Cuffley) of ‘the Scottish play’, in contemporary garb. The curiosity and intrigue of another companion joining them is somewhat short-lived, as Juliet (Gala Wesson) of Romeo and Juliet is rather confused and, after a time, distressed – where is this? How did she end up here? Frantically, she runs around the performance space, and then around the theatre space, looking for an escape route: there isn’t one, which makes this seem like the Jean-Paul Sartre 1944 play Huis Clos (translated ‘No Exit’ or ‘No Way Out’), the most famous line from that play being, “Hell is other people.”
This isn’t really ‘hell’, though, or at least there’s no explicit reference to it being a place these characters find themselves in as a result of having fallen foul of a religion’s principles. This is also a production that passes the key litmus test of being understood by anyone who just so happens to have no prior knowledge of any of the Shakespeare plays from which these characters are taken from. As Juliet doesn’t know what’s going on, that which can be explained is explained. Some of the rest is reliant on flashbacks, which occur right up until the final moments of the play and provide an opportunity for the audience to hear the characters speak their lines as given in the Shakespeare text (my knowledge does not, fortunately, or unfortunately, extend to which folio or quarto version was used).
The production also succeeds in containing much amusement for those with a good knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays. “Ooh, she doesn’t know,” Ophelia coos at ‘Jules’ (as ‘Lady M’ has now determined the newest arrival should be called), in reference to a certain plot point in Romeo and Juliet. After a while, though, the whole premise of women locked in a proverbial cage starts to get a little tiresome. Just as well, then, that the trio decide to try to end their lives again, as it were, even in the afterlife, with surprisingly hilarious consequences.
As ever with seating configurations with little or no rake and a stage at floor level, there’s not much to see for anyone sat behind the first couple of rows when the characters are seated, and particularly when they are sat on the floor. The show involves a lot of talking heads, so this meant poor sightlines didn’t prove too much of a hindrance on people’s ability to understand proceedings, but there’s no getting around the fact that this could have been a radio play. I’ve nothing against radio plays, but that isn’t what the audience has paid for.
I can only imagine what it would have been like if the characters had a full and comprehensive grasp of how it was that their lives came to be. What would they say to William Shakespeare given the opportunity to address the playwright in the afterlife? But that is another play for another time. Here, most of the dialogue is in contemporary speech, and it is largely sharp and engaging. Brief but accessible, this is an intense and enjoyable production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Juliet is about to kill herself.
All Lady Macbeth and Ophelia can do is watch and wait for her to arrive. The three women reside alone in a forgotten wasteland which abides by no rhyme or reason; their only knowledge that they all got there by the same route.
Together they play cards, drink moonshine from teacups, and piece together the remnants of their pasts to find out: exactly why have they all been put there? Is there is a way out? And exactly why was Hamlet so obsessed with himself, that he failed to notice anyone else around him was more than one dimensional?
Lady Garden Theatre Company are proud to announce the London premiere of their debut production, ‘Shakespeare’s Mad Women’. The debut play from by co-founder and director Abigail Smith, and devised by this exciting all-female company, this witty black comedy explores the ‘what if’ behind three of Shakespeare’s most famous female characters, and why artists so easily reduce female characters to no more than ‘mad women’.
Shakespeare’s Mad Women will be at Theatre N16 from 11th June – 13th June 2018