The concept is a promising one. Shakespeare; the human man, not the iconic genius; was tortured by his gift, haunted by tragedy and periodically blocked by crippling self-doubt. That story, an examination of his humanity and struggle to be exorcize his demons, deserves to be told. Having him de-evolve as a guest on a contemporary chat show, culminating in a cathartic breakdown, is original and interesting.
‘Shakespeare Tonight’ has a short development run as part of the Camden Fringe before transfer to Edinburgh for a week in August. Credit should be given for press night nerves when assessing this somewhat laboured performance, even so the production exhibits significant flaws in almost all areas.
Technically, the sound and lighting design fails to capture the noise and hubris of modern pop culture. The faux excitement of booming sound systems and flashing lights, fire up the adrenal gland directly, by-passing the intellect, in such shows. The hysterical crowd reactions are a huge part of that, the baying mob significantly not reproduced here by a small fringe theatre audience.
But the central problem is that the two main protagonists are badly written and directed as grotesque caricatures. Peter Revel-Walsh plays Shakespeare as an arch-narcissist, a prancing ninny in lemon socks, like a third rate Russell Brand clone. And Priscilla Fere’s Martina shows none of the emotional intelligence or natural charm of, say, a Vicky Pattison or Cheryl Cole.
And there is no chemistry between the pair. Which is a shame; because the idea of the passionate, intellectual writer, a prince of the high theatre, engaging dramatically with the homespun philosophy and raw sexuality of Martina, a princess of popular culture; is a fascinating one (and would make an excellent screenplay).
The use of Frances Bacon (cast as a fading star) as a foil, surprise guest and antagonist, is interesting, and Garry Voss did his best to raise the stakes, albeit propelled too often by writing and production into parody.
Time after time any gathering dramatic intensity was derailed by some clever in joke or cheesy pun. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if someone, anyone, in the audience had laughed. There was more tumbleweed than in a Clint Eastwood box set.
Casting, direction, execution and above all writing are culpable here. Both principals are made to play the clown, and struggle with a series of knowing puns. They should have played it straight, the situation is inherently comic, and left the funny stuff to Duke, the capable Paul Obertelli struggling manfully to keep up the sagging pace.
Francesca Mepham likewise gave a capable performance as the shrill, amoral producer Becky, as did Kaara Benstead as Catherine, convincing her cameo role in the cloyingly sentimental ending. The idea is brilliant, the execution less so, but one hopes this talented company and writer will persevere with the development of this piece as they head to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Review by Laura Thomas
Written by Paul Wilson and Tim Ferguson
If Shakespeare were living and working today, who would he be? Tom Stoppard? Or Quentin Tarantino? Keith Richards or Russell Brand? A genius, an outsider, or just plain ‘Bill’?
In Shakespeare Tonight The Bard is very much alive and kicking. Hamlet has just opened (to ‘mixed’ reviews!) and William is giving his first ever TV interview. Finally, we have the chance to ask the questions that have kept us all guessing: Are these plays really his? What’s his true relationship with Anne? Why, after years of comedies and romances, has he suddenly turned to tragedy?
To Be or Not To Be…? The answer’s not on Google!
Performed at Theatro Technis London
Cast and Crew
David Parry (Director/Producer)
Peter Revel-Walsh (as William Shakespeare)
Garry Voss as Sir Francis Bacon
Priscilla Fere as Martina
Paul Obertelli as The Duke
Francesca Mepham as Rebekah
Kaara Benstead as Anne Hathaway
Part of the Camden Fringe Festival