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Fun at the Fringe; a long weekend in Edinburgh

Admire the views from atop ‘Arthur’s Seat’; play with medieval weaponry at the castle; scale the treacherous heights of the Scot memorial; these are all the things I intended to achieve on my first trip to Edinburgh.

Instead, I spent five days hidden from the sunlight (please allow my poetic license, after all, this is Scotland!) in dank, underground venues, begging people to entertain me. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

The streets are crowded by up-and-comers desperate to pass on their flyers (and as much information as they can convey in seconds), along with pop-up venues, street performers and fairy lights. There’s a fine line to be drawn between someone who has taken full advantage of the ‘drink until 5am’ Fringe-specific licensing laws, or an avant-garde performance artist. Anything goes and everything is constantly buzzing.

Edinburgh itself strikes budding photographers with its somewhat labyrinthine, multi-levelled streets; each lined with unanimously ‘ye olde’ buildings and bearing quaintly amusing names from yesteryear. But beyond these thick grey walls lie hundreds upon hundreds of Fringe theatre venues; from a pub, crammed full of garden chairs, to a pungent nightclub corridor, if you can fit more than ten people, you can put on a show.

Owing to my (not always voluntary) frugal lifestyle, I relished the abundance and variety of free fringe performances on offer. As expected, they request donations at the end, but they lack all pressures of forced enjoyment. Sometimes this, unfortunately, leads to an unenthusiastic audience and a comedian perturbed by their lack of response; but, other times, gems can be uncovered in the most unlikely of places.

Surviving, by and large, on word of mouth (unless you nab a copy of the ‘PBH Free Fringe’ programme) here’s a rundown of my free theatrical spoils:

‘The Simpsons taught me everything I know’: ideal for shamelessly fan-girl-ing the iconic show. Yianni Agisilaou teams flawless impressions, with crowd-pleasing quotes and unexpected trivia. Perhaps comedy is less daunting when you know the exact sense of humour your audience is seeking; and we lapped it up!

‘Jollyboat’: pun-tastic comedy musicians. Somewhat inexplicably dressed as pirates, this duo take pleasure in all things nerdy, through song! I can see the Pokemon and GOT numbers flying off the shelves; whilst The Bible, retold through rap, will be scaling straight to the top of the charts!

‘Mothers’: a Cambridge sketch comedy trio, these guys strike a balance between developing their own ‘Inbetweeners’-esque characters and some totally surreal sketch moments. Also relishing in several musical moments, the highlight was a poignant rap: ‘Living at Home’. This hit home which much of the twenty-something audience; observational comedy meets ridiculous, flamboyant flair.

‘Trevor Lock’: bizarrely enough, this hour-long stand up set contained not a single joke, or even attempt at conventional comedy. Purely based on deadpan delivery, brazening out some of the most mundane material, to the surprise and delight of the waiting crowd. Turns out, observational comedy can please the whole audience, when the only observations are set within that very room.

‘Viking Longboat’: shout out random words, throw your ideas into a hat and watch this improv troupe enact your brainchild, in desperate pursuit of a logical storyline. Silly, unexpected and certainly diverse!

‘Brickhead’: this mime comedian’s flyer showed such great promise, but in reality, his show was marred by the pumping salsa sounds from the club downstairs; that and the fact he relied on a single, unfunny movement sequence. We left before giving him the chance to get any better, so, by all means, try it for yourself- if you dare!

‘Positions’: I caught the first performance of this witty two-man play, so they were understandably a little jittery. The tale of a young couple, separated by oceans and language barriers, but together through Skype and choreographed movement sequences. Unfortunately, they too were intruded upon by the sound of an adjacent gig; but try not to let that put you off!

‘Free Footlights’: a mixed bag of student stand ups and sketch snippets. Around eight acts, for the price of one (well, free actually!), with a comedy compere, who often stole the show in between. As expected, some acts were distinctly better than others, across the two days that I frequented the showcase. Personal highlights included a sensationalised and eloquently written tale of “Broken Britain” from Adrian Gray, and some notably silly observations from Rob Oldham.

‘Made to Measure’: my first taste of performative Spoken Word. I braced myself for a preaching poet, with a brick wall back drop, but was gloriously surprised by this comedic duo. They followed a flowing narrative, with observational witticisms and effortless poetry, bringing multiple levels of meaning and emotion to a basic ‘journey to work’ tale. I was sold.

As one might expect from the second largest global gathering, after the Olympics (n.b. Just according to my friend, and unverified), the festival probably wouldn’t enjoy such long term success without a small fee charged by most of the shows. Picking and choosing from the thousands of shows on offer can be mind-numbingly tough, but, the odd sell out certainly makes some decisions for you!

Drawn mostly by recommendations, knowing the cast members, or simply following the crowd, these lucky shows comprise my latest bank statement:

‘Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Gameshows’: a weird combination of political satire and glitzy drag cabaret. A big budget slice was clearly spent on glitter and, although there was a little too much audience participation for my liking, they nailed everyone’s favourite gameshow tropes. Not exactly ‘laugh out loud’, but, certainly cleverness compounded with impeccable impressions.

‘The Leeds Tealights: Tension’: another student sketch group, combining everything from Spanish sitcoms to the ubiquitous Brexit joke (this one particularly outdid many other Fringe attempts I reckon), via stupid outfits and prop comedy. A mental mixture of ‘what should I expect next?’

‘Boys’ by Aireborne Theatre: remember ‘Skins’? Well this is ‘Skins’, but with people who can actually act! Running at just under an hour in total, the piece necessitates exhaustingly high energy and highly-strung emotions from the six-strong cast. They all perform effortlessly and convincingly (which is no mean feat, considering the amount of “alcohol” and “narcotics” the script demands!)

‘Goodbear’: the best way to describe these two former Leeds Tealights is ‘silly’. Their incredibly accomplished sketch show runs fluidly, through their acute control of physical comedy and a seamless soundtrack. The characters presented are as varied as they are wacky, each one adding another layer to the lads’ performative repertoires. It’s a sell-out for a reason!

And finally, if you want to escape the smelly student riff raff, the Edinburgh International Festival runs concurrently to the Fringe. Staged in the “real” theatres, I had a delightful sojourn back into truly accomplished theatre, thanks to having a man on the inside (“yes I will take those free tickets off of your hands.”)

‘Shake’: This retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, almost entirely in French, regained the abundant sense of fun and comedy so often lost in studying the Bard. Sir Toby and the Fool compered the whole event, with musical interludes and even ventriloquism. The whole piece was strung together with multi-roling and on-stage costume changes, not only highlighting the underlying tropes of this cross-dressing tale, but also harking back to the fun and frivolous origins, as well as providing a sense of surprise at the end, which has been lost from the plot across four hundred years of repetition! That is not to undermine the honesty of emotion shown in scenes between the lovers; but this production certainly didn’t need to dwell on the soppy stuff! (As is probably apparent, this show was a highlight for me and my ongoing Renaissance literary love affair.)

Edinburgh has all the offerings of a huge city, in a compact, ‘carry on bag’ fashion. Thus, if you’re lucky enough to have a plethora of theatrical, ‘Fringe-enthusiast’ friends, be they performers or lowly audience members, you’re bound to bump into them time and again,  amongst the hoards of tourists. Thus, this trip was dedicated solely to long-overdue catch-ups and the unending search for new talent. The sightseeing can wait until next year!

Macbeth, Thane of Oz.

I found myself in the fortunate position of back-to-back theatre dates this week: Monday night saw Carrie Cracknell’s surreal and dystopian take on Macbeth at the Young Vic, whilst Tuesday took an excursion to the Emerald City, in the classic musical Wicked.

At first glance these two productions couldn’t be more disparate, connected only by my attendance. However, I humbly refuse to credit myself so highly and sought to find some other connections; perhaps attempting to justify my teasingly diverse interests?!

The most obvious parallel to draw is that both plays contain witches. In this circumstance, the three weird sisters Macbeth faces are presented as nothing more than vessels for magic out of their control. Their juttingly unnerving movements and nude, skintight costumes made these witches emotionless (and uncannily similar to the psychic in Minority Report with Tom Cruise, but this was probably an accidental bi-product.) Almost omnipresent, the sisters seem to enact Macbeth’s conscience; feeling when he feels, trembling when he does and menacingly distracting him as embodiments of his guilt.

On the opposite end of the spectrum to this predominantly silent, looming presence, is the undeniably ‘witchy’ presentation of Elphaba. You say “witch”, you think: green skin, a pointed black hat and a billowing cape, as she takes to the sky on her broomstick. What was out of the ordinary though, was the implication that these stereotypes came about by pure chance. Her green skin was a birth defect, the hat was a gift-cum-prank and the broomstick just happened to be at the receiving end of a levitation spell. Thus Elphaba becomes a trailblazer of magical fashion. The presentation of witches in Macbeth can’t be considered unexpected if the pointy hats are no longer seen as traditional, or the norm. Perhaps, in rejecting the ‘evil old hag’ characteristic, even something as globally popular as Wicked can be considered ‘avant-garde’.

Yet, having never been famously interested in the occult, I can’t claim the presence of witches to be a leading factor in my ticket buying habits. Under closer inspection, perhaps these two shows share more than just a London postcode.

A key story-telling tool used by this incarnation of Macbeth was music. In order to bring the long, unadorned, grey corridor set to life, interpretive dance, to thumping bass-driven music, was thrown in wherever possible. The company energetically threw themselves towards the audience, as the advancing trees of Birnam Wood, bringing an entire battle scene to life within the confines of the modestly sized stage. I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise that Wicked also used music to narrate itself! The majestic explosion of notes within ‘Defying Gravity’ alone have ensured the show’s residence as one of the top ten longest running West End musicals. I plan to pursue singing lessons as of next week.

On a far less uplifting note, another similarity I teased out from both plays is the presence, in fact the leadership, of an under-qualified, over-reaching and unjust tyrant. Macbeth paves his way to power with murder; the Wonderful Wizard of Oz merely pretends, performs and imprisons any objectors. Both “great” men are eventually brought down by ghosts of their past, lingering both in their memories and, usually, in a spotlight, upstage of them!

Countering the sick pleasure I find in resenting and rejecting these corrupt male figures of authority, are the strong female characters in their shadows. Lady Macbeth dominates the play; she controls those around her, with a single touch flicking a switch to ‘power off’ her dinner guests, allowing her conversations with her husband to remain ‘aside’. Even in her mania, she remains oxymoronically controlled; “out damned spot” is brushed off, repressed, spoken over, truly highlighting her lack of remorse. Elphaba is an equally powerful female figure, both magically and morally. However, unlike Lady M’s undeniable villainy, Elphaba is proven to be far from wicked. The whole thing is a great, big, sugar-coated misunderstanding (as musicals ought to be.)

Yet, it is in Macbeth where just deserts are served, whilst the only just characters in Wicked are swept under the trapdoor, beneath the rug. Why then does an evening of Shakespearean tragedy inevitably leave one noticeably less peppy than an evening imported from Broadway? Do we ignore the ending and just remember the general vibe: sinister vs. sequinned?

Whatever the outcome, I strongly believe that Shakespearean drama should be just as accessible and widely enjoyed as the next big musical (minus a ‘kinky boot’ or two!) Give or take a few ‘thees’ and ‘-eths’, the similarities, particularly in character types, are undeniably present. To quote from Shakespeare himself: ‘if music be the food of love […]’ add some jazz hands to your play and it’s guaranteed success!

The Old Vic’s Hairy Ape

Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape artistically, and at times poetically, presents an overdue indictment on a society that reserves the right to needlessly exclude. The eponymous character is trapped on the lower deck of a repressive, ‘upstairs, downstairs’ society; whilst transition may appear fluid, it becomes increasingly clear that class is a cage from which no one can escape.

The physicality of the production was triumphant in demarcating the specific sub-sects of this society. From the opening freeze frame, the cage full of rowdy boilermen was brought to life by their synchronised slow-motion swaying, tossing them on a tide out of their control.

A highlight for the presentation of homogeneity was the almost grotesque portrayal of the New York elite, on their way home from church. Blank masked faces, adorned in sartorial finery, advanced in slow-motion, with exaggerated movements akin to dancing the charleston. The ‘Hairy Ape’ stood amongst them, with his characteristic, flea-ridden twitching, unable to make himself heard. The ghoulish group spoke only with repetitions of the phrase ‘I beg your pardon’, further denying them any personality or individuality. Yet we watch as the only individual character on stage craves this sense of mindless belonging.

The only real interaction the ‘Hairy Ape’ achieves, with each of the groups he approaches, is to be aggressively beaten. This choreographed sequence became a trope by which the scenes were defined. Somewhat repetitive, but certainly successful at driving home a message of disenfranchisement and rejection.

Unfortunately, these defining moments of physicality were punctuated with soul-searching soliloquies from the lead character. Not only did the energy noticeably sag at these points, but, beyond this, the script was detracted from by the speaker’s appalling accent. Aiming for an anger-ridden, Brando-esque New York Longshoreman, Bertie Carvel began sounding distinctly (albeit unintentionally) Eastern European. Whilst he did settle into the accent somewhat as the play unfolded, he still remained largely incoherent. His ape-like tendencies presented themselves through cacophonous crashing of any surrounding props, yet he was unable to project his voice over this noise due to the deeply glottal voice he had adopted to show his anger.  Luckily the script itself was repetitively written, in order to hammer its point home, thus allowing us to understand what he was saying at least the second or third time around!

I am however pleased to confess that the production as a whole visually compensated for its verbal shortcomings. The omnipresent, sinisterly serene face of Douglas Steel, in projections, newspapers and even the giant ‘man in the moon’ balloon, was an Orwellian touch that brought a sense of looming control and discomfort for all. The synchronised choreography of the men hard at work in the boiler room of the great ship stoked the fires of moral outrage with the palpable energy and exhaustion of the men. And the set itself, with its stark yellow cages, simplistically created a dystopian world, at once nightmarish and surreally familiar.

Overall, The Old Vic was true to form in achieving a visually and morally outstanding production; my only suggestion would be to find a new vocal coach!

‘Smooth-Faced Gentlemen’ take on the irrationally masculine world of Othello

After being blown away by Maxine Peake’s Hamlet earlier this year, I was eager to see what could become of a classic Shakespearean drama if ALL of the characters were portrayed by women. Whilst drama may be looked on at school as a cop-out, ‘girly’ subject, it doesn’t prevent women from being totally underrepresented and under-appreciated in the profession; thus ‘Smooth-Faced Gentlemen’, an all-female theatre company, attempts to redress the balance. After all, Renaissance theatre was originally intended for performance by a cast of all the same sex!

Unlike Cumberbatch’s Hamlet (see my previous post/rant), this version did not attempt to overdo the play, and, in my opinion, ought to be commended for its simplicity. All the women wore identical, unassumingly beige, 1950s army uniforms; thus enhancing the stand out difference of Othello’s skin colour. The set saw a bare stage adorned with multi-purpose doorframes, hanging (aptly) Venetian blinds. Mounted on wheels, these doorframes afforded fast-paced versatility to the piece, as the action of the play tirelessly changes location. Beyond this, when stationary, the set created some memorable stage pictures, namely: Iago and Othello both kneeling in prayer, each framed by their own door/ confession box. Not lasting all that long, this visual parallelism of the two “men” in matching costumes, postures and framed side-by-side, spoke volumes about Iago’s intentions to usurp the Moor through making him his puppet. Moments such as this added layers of analytical depth to the language, rather than using physicality to necessarily spell out the plot.

Another telling use of the blinds came in the scene where Othello eavesdrops on Cassio, fuelling his anger with misconstrued evidence. A row of half-open blinds cut the stage in half, and spun around to allow the audience to inhabit either side of this arras. As Cassio gushed on his love for Bianca, Othello could be half seen, upstage, pacing in fury. In this scene in particular, the blinds came into their own, marking the key underlying discrepancy between what is seen, heard and so easily misunderstood. The minimalist set design was justified by its symbolic depth.

Despite the effectiveness of the design techniques employed, the overriding simplicity allowed the overall focus to be directed towards the original language, within which the cast found, and exploited, an unexpected level of comedy.

Perhaps overexcited by this opening night of the show’s London transfer, the role of Brabantio seemed comically overplayed in the opening scene; I was momentarily concerned this play could sink into a pit of am-dram clichés (see Romeo and Juliet as played in Hot Fuzz!) However, my fears were allayed as the pressure was laid off of Brabantio and the whole cast adopted an appropriate level of comedy, finding satire and moments of pantomimic self-awareness in the script. Roderigo, played by Hannah Morley, was wonderfully foolish, not only providing comic relief but, importantly, exacerbating Iago’s sinister nature by comparison.

Calm and cunning as he is, perhaps Iago was destined to be played by a wily woman. Actress Ashlea Kaye played the role as perfectly villainous, never allowing masculine rage to let her lose her cool. On the other hand, I wondered from the outset how a role as overtly masculine as Othello could be handled by a female actor. Written as an uninspiring role for the most part, Anita-Joy Uwajeh did seem honestly in love (or indeed lust) with Desdemona; but the true mastery of the role is in the final scene, when her wide-eyed expression crossed the boundary from masculine anger, to the crazed hysteria of a woman scorned. That is not to say that this performance transformed Othello into ‘Othella’; rather that the production as a whole showed the virtue of exploring the unexpectedly feminine depths of character available to these traditional roles.

These feminine attributes were often so subtle that when the female characters actually came on stage, with the simple addition of a colourful skirt over their fatigues, I was forced to double take. Harking back to the original Renaissance playhouses, these women, at times, appeared as men performing in drag! Perhaps so focussed on achieving convincing male portrayals (which, as described, were hugely successful), these actresses didn’t exactly exude femininity when it came to playing Shakespeare’s women. That is with the notable exception of Helen Coles in the role of Desdemona. As expected in this quietly feminist theatre company, Desdemona was a strong female character; she was played with ample sass and, despite her relatively limited stage time, she spoke her lines as if holding her own on a stage full of men.

Finally, drawing together the impressive performances and subtly telling set design, the pace of the play can be considered a triumph in its own right. In order to accommodate the vast geographical and temporal expanses covered, the scenes were made to almost overlap; this, in turn, kept the snappy, comedic energy of the piece consistently high. Never a moment was wasted, unless intentionally so. By creating such tireless energy throughout, the cast left time allowances to slow some scenes to total stillness: such as whilst Othello and Iago share a “friendly” drink, Iago allows silent pauses for his poison to sink deeper into his foe. The opposition between pacy comedy and slow seething truly exacerbated the eventual tragedy.

In order to further enhance the drama and pace of the final act, the cast employed the only script-manipulation I will allow: through a soundscape of repeated lines, out of order and overlapping, it became apparent that Cassio’s attempted murder and Desdemona’s deathbed scene were occurring simultaneously. This slight deviation from folio added to the overall chaos and mania of the closing scenes of the play, somewhat vindicating the rash and undeserved actions therein.

Overall, whilst Othello is by no means my favourite Shakespeare play, this revival brought light, laughter and, most importantly, fast-paced excitement to the piece. It wasn’t just ‘good for a group of girls’, it truly stood out as an impressive, worthy take on classic theatre.

Review: Hamlet Cumberbatch, in all its long-awaited glory

Whilst I appreciated this was a well-executed, grand spectacle, responsible for reinvigorating the masses to watch Shakespeare, I can’t help but disagree with just about every directorial decision presented.

Let’s start at the beginning, or the latter half of act 1, scene 2, as this rewrite had it. By all means, update Shakespeare; I’ve seen it done in 80s dress, with unwelcome pop ballads between scenes and even whilst ‘Shit-Faced’. Every director brings their own slant to the Bard. But don’t rewrite it. Don’t mess with the script.

If Cumberbatch’s record-breaking sell out show is anything to go by, the script worked fine before, and not so much when it’s all out of order. It’s sad that half the world are now going to assume this newfangled version is gospel.

This notable lack of the classic opening scene, for me, diminished the initial shock factor of the Ghost’s appearance. The show tried to compensate by making his eventual arrival doubly shocking, to the point of melodramatic ridiculousness. Old Hamlet’s body was chewed up and ‘zombie-fied’ and his language lost impetus due to the bumbling-old-man voice with which it was spoken. This (unfit) characterisation of the Ghost was only further mocked when the actor doubled as the comedic Gravedigger later; other than the alliteration of their names, I don’t see why these two characters needed to be paralleled.

In opposition to the Zombie of Old Hamlet, much of the performance took a relatively naturalistic tact. The stage was overtly grand, totally befitting of the Court of Elsinore, but seemed comfortably like home for the characters and actors alike. Aligning with this set, Cumberbatch played an honest, sincere Hamlet. His emotions were wonderfully heartfelt, if not a little too melancholy for my liking. For me, Hamlet ought to be driven by bitterness, his wit manifested in sarcasm, demeaning those around him and controlling any situation he inhabits. Yet the premature placement of ‘to be or not to be’ rendered Hamlet suicidal from very early on. Whilst Cumberbatch mastered the role he was given, I personally found his scenes were a little too formulaic: spot-lit soliloquies caused him to break down into teary-eyed paralysis, somewhat slowing the pace of each scene to that of the background actors, who adopted super-slow motion whilst he spoke.

This repeated use of slow-motion, ‘don’t look at us, we’re not here’ acting, wasn’t the only innovative physicality in the piece. As Shakespeare’s lengthiest play, Hamlet can get bogged down in wordiness, so Lyndsey Turner direction utilised the physicality of both actors and props, in order to convey the message to the masses. The slow-motion, whilst Hamlet disappeared into his own thoughts, was well-executed and added a new dimension to the classic ‘single man on stage, pouring his heart out’ formula. However, most of the other physical decisions left me either scratching or shaking my head. It seemed that too much comedy was being found in prop-use, bordering on slapstick silliness when Hamlet’s ‘madness’ reduced him to a childlike state, popping his head out from an under-sized fort. His ‘antic disposition’ ought to be calculated, intelligent, and yes, whilst he should have fun with it, I don’t believe that total regression to match the giant mindless soldier toys was necessarily the way to go.

Beyond this, the closet scene between Hamlet and Gertrude is described in the script itself as being reliant on ‘words’ as weapons; thus the comparison between her two husbands, between a glamorous hanging portrait and a tacky merchandise plate with Claudius’ face stamped in the centre, seemed to undermine the quality of their conversation, for the sake of a cheap laugh.

A less intentional laugh came at the climactic end of the first half, when everyone is in pursuit of the mad, and now murderous, Hamlet. The combination of thumping bass music, strobe lighting and a flurry of ashes and hectic was awe-inspiring; but the courtiers, in full suits, running on all fours, was just a little much. I get the whole ‘pursued by hounds’ factor, but the lack of commitment to their canine roles saw the men gallop across half the stage, before resuming full biped status for the other half.

The second act was suitably dark and ominous, with the once grand stage bestrewn with filth and ash. However, the very final scene was ruined by the over-done death of Laertes. Everything stopped, Hamlet himself this time adopted super-slow motion, to plunge the rapier into the spot-lit Laertes; meanwhile the company did some strange, floaty movements akin to any GCSE drama class. This could have been a fantastic climax, but WHY was it given to Laertes? I would have loved a moment like this (admittedly minus the floaty arm movements) to mark Claudius’ murder, the culmination of all of Hamlet’s strife. Instead, ‘poison to thy work’ was over in a matter of seconds, far upstage and somewhat masked by the balustrade of the grand staircase.

I don’t feel it necessary to prate on about Cumberbatch’s impressive acting (after all, let’s face it, his participation was the only reason the theatre was so beyond ‘Sold Out’ that I had been demoted to a cinema screening.) But it is worth noting the other impeccable acting performances. Claudius was every bit the perfect villain, from the sinister twist to undermine his prayer/confession, to the unloving way he manhandled the increasingly frail Gertrude. Rozencrantz and Guildernstern were the perfect dweebs, underplaying their parts masterfully to become nothing more than pawns in Claudius’ cruel game.

Ophelia, played by Sian Brooke, seemed a little too pathetic from the off, causing me to wonder where her performance had left to go when it came to her breakdown. But this performance truly surprised me, as the second act saw Ophelia ditch her oversized, frumpy jumper, for a Victoriana lace dress, making her Miss Haversham-esque in her madness. Her twitching was enough to make the audience flinch with discomfort; a spectacular use of physicality, amongst all the other silliness. Finally, having expressed herself musically from her very first appearance, Ophelia was granted a dramatic and worthy end, as she shut the piano lid and stumbled offstage, up a dark path, towards the light. If her total physical and mental demise wasn’t enough to suggest her impending death, this dramatic exit certainly did; the always overlooked Ophelia was finally given her last hurrah.

As a whole, I totally respected the performance, particularly from an acting point of view. But, unfortunately, I see it as the very height of hubris to think that one can acceptably re-write Shakespeare. Thus, for someone who has read and reread Hamlet incalculable times, this version undermined its own potential greatness in trying to be just that bit too innovative.

Everyman; a National Theatre Review

Originating in the fifteenth century as a relatively simplistic moral message, Duffy’s new adaptation maintains the medieval integrity of the piece, whilst incorporating into Everyman something that every-modern-man could relate to.

From the outset, it is clearly an ensemble piece. At the risk of sounding trite, the company really did incorporate ‘everyman’, embodying a variety of shape, size, colour and creed; yet this diversity became irrelevant when the hugely energetic physical theatre sequences kicked off this Saturday night party. As a collective, the movement was fast-paced and cocaine-induced, yet perfectly coordinated, bringing the scene to life without having to verbalise a thing. This keen use of physicality allowed the spoken words to be selectively chosen, as only a laureate can, creating beautifully skilled, yet never laboured, rhymes.

Alongside this balletic chaos in the opening scene and in accordance with the large-scale, projected images of the eponymous character’s life flashing before his eyes, this piece made innovative use of a variety of mediums. Actors and props became interchangeable: as an army of mannequins hung suspended above the stage, four ‘alive’ mannequins strutted around, heartlessly and cruelly personifying the fleeting, selfish attitude of our society’s tireless consumerism. Whilst still quite blatantly didactic, this scene came as a welcome tangent from the message of the piece as a whole.

At his lowest ebb, Everyman found himself in a landfill site, brought to life by a Mighty Boosh-esque conga line of giant bin bag creatures. Moves like this reminded the audience that, whilst pushing a clear moral message, medieval theatre was heavily focussed on comedy and entertainment value.

Quite contrastingly, the belting voice of Everyman’s mother sung out at the point when ‘Ev’ and his troupe finally accepted their demise. A chilling atmosphere was evoked as the chorus joined in song, acutely aware of the doom that had been impending from the start.

This dichotomy between seriousness and frivolity was perfectly matched in the figures of God and Death. God, a humble, servile cleaning lady, had equally balanced bitterness and benevolence as she cleared up everyones’ messes time and again. Meanwhile, Death wore a boiler suit and a cheeky be-flamed beanie hat, as the Irish cheeky-chappy relished his work.

Sadly there was no ‘get out of jail free’ card for Everyman, as his first entrance showed him plummet from the flies into a pit embedded on the stage. All further entrances and exits came from below, clarifying the inevitable demise of this character, who the audience had successfully warmed to as the play progressed.

As I said, this piece was championed by its use of the entire company; yet as they each personified an attribute of the lead character, and all ‘mysteriously’ disappeared from beside him at his death, in a looming crime scene tent, kudos must be given to Chiwetel Ejiofor for his tireless soul searching throughout. He was dismissive and deeply emotive in equal parts as he finally came to the realisation that the search for the self can only come as a collective; selfishness clearly can’t win in life or in the theatre, as this piece triumphantly proves.

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