WARNING: This show contains extreme Audience Participation.
Any show built around, not to put too fine a point on it, taking the p*ss out of Shakespeare, will inevitably be seen through the prism of the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
Shakespeare As You (Might) Like It does indeed pay homage to that much loved and widely viewed truncated Bardathon in the Shakespeare game sequence which reflects the RSC’s “King Lear” as an American Football match – “Go long, Cordelia” is the memorable refrain. But whereas the RSC was three men with one a very reluctant repeating female impersonator, this company, Shook Up Shakespeare, is two women with one, perhaps worryingly, a far from reluctant male impersonator.
These two actors, Roseanna Morris and Helen Watkinson, are brilliant performers and wonderful entertainers. Having bribed their audience with a “stoop of wine” and a “Much Ado About Muffin” as we took our seats their high octane performance could only be the result of taking three E’s beforehand – enthusiasm, energy and ebullience.
(Trade descriptions does oblige me to point out, though, that a “stoop” of wine, in my view, is a goodly sized vessel equivalent to a large Claret glass, rather than the proffered minuscule thimble. And to be absolutely accurate those are mini-muffins not the full-scale gob-stuffer variety. Sorry.)
We exchanged our tickets for a party bag on the way in which contained, rather disappointingly in my case, a Vimto sweet and a paper hat. Others had much more interesting stuff like a scroll which inevitably became a prop in the proceedings – audience members having to read out sonnets that showed that Shakespeare may have been a great playwright but was a cr*p poet. I think most of us would concur with this as who ever reads any of the 154 sonnets apart from the famous one?
Then we had pass the parcel round the audience with sweets falling out of the unwrappings and the lucky winner getting a quill “to write plays with”. All these kind of shenanigans (great word, nothing to do with Europe’s borders) require a constant commentary from the performers of course and these two don’t ever disappoint.
The ad libs come thick and fast and I was minded to note just how much rehearsal goes into getting those ad libs right.
We had now been fully indoctrinated into Shook Up Shakespeare’s classification of Shakespeare as Poet, Playwright and Party Planner as the action moved on to “Twelfth Night” territory (careful – it’s my favourite). Here we had a classic deception gag where hundreds of members of the audience were hauled onto stage (well, five actually) and given funny noses and veils and stuff and were primed with rapt anticipation of their big moment – only to be dismissed without doing anything much at all. Oh, how we laughed at those poor saps as they made their down-trodden, heads-bowed, miserably humiliated way back to their seats silently vowing never to volunteer in audience participation again.
More audience members were then recruited for a very clever sequence of interchanging lines with a bloke in the audience (a Stig Abell look-alike, obviously planted) ringing a bell and the characters switching in mid-speech. At this acme of hilarity, though, came my only slight grouch about the show (besides only getting a Vimto sweet that is). The duo suddenly decided to do a bit of Serious Shakespeare.
Carrying on the “Twelfth Night” scene they played it straight and we were left hanging on every word waiting for the funny line. This morphed into “Othello” (I think, I was drifting off a bit now) and it became clear, apparently, that they had RUN OUT OF JOKES. My advice: either cut that ten minutes or get back to what you do best: funny stuff.
They pulled it round though with an excellent dance pastiche finale – music supplied by Shane Rutherford-Jones (composer) on piano and Juliet Somebody on violin.
Directed by Martha Geelan this is a great hour of fun, irreverence and systematic slaughter of scared cows – avoid if you have a shrine to the Bard in your library. I imagine it’s heading to Edinburgh where it will go down a storm – rivalling that long-running institution, “Shakespeare For Breakfast”, as “Shakespeare for Aperitif” perhaps.
One more WARNING: Morris and Watkinson are so wacky, off-the-wall and mischievously outlandish they may contain traces of nuts.
Review by Peter Yates
Shakespeare As You (Might) Like It
With Roseanna Morris and Helen Watkinson
Directed by Martha Geelan
Original music composed by Shane Rutherfoord- Jones
Photography by Paul Orssich
You are cordially invited to the Quad Centenary Wake in memoriam of William Shakespeare who shuffled off this mortal coil in 1616
Join Shook Up Shakespeare for a night of rowdy and raucous entertainment at this boozy, brash and bawdy celebration of the bard.
Two actresses, three plays, six parts, limitless possibilities and just one more ingredient needed in this magnificent melting pot.. YOU!
21st – 24th January 2016