The concept is about as thin as they come: Shakespeare’s plays deal with an admittedly startling range of human emotion and experience: love, greed, jealousy, pride etc. So, there’s our seven deadly sins. And then what? Stitch this ‘concept’ together by raiding the Shakespeare canon for random scenes which illustrate each of the sins. Hmmm…
Concerns that this concept might not work were confirmed on entering the theatre as the audience were handed a hastily put together spoiler sheet explaining said concept. But surely the play ought to speak for itself I hear you say? Apparently not. These notes, as it turned out, were absolutely essential to understand what followed.
And if you didn’t happen to be a Shakespearean scholar, heaven only knows what you would have made of it all.
The chanting quartet of performers entered a bare performance space and we were all set. Inexplicably, they then proceed to perform a routine consisting of, er… tai-chi. For one dreadful moment I thought Carl Douglas’s "Kung Fu Fighting" was about to burst forth. Shakespeare and… Tai Chi…silly me!
There then follows bits of this and bits of that. One minute we are with Polixenes and Laertes and, before you have time to blink, we are whisked away from Bohemia to Verona. It’s a short hop thereafter to Denmark and Rome. Oh and there are also a few sonnets thrown in for good measure. Think drama showcase and you’ll be in the right territory.
It’s a crying shame that the talents of the actors are squandered in this way. Cathy Shiel, Rose Van Leyenhorst, Ryan Greaves and Robert Jackson are accomplished Shakespearean performers one and all, the latter’s rendition of Malvolio’s letter soliloquy a masterclass of comic subtlety.
But it’s not enough. To be honest it all feels a tad self-indulgent. "We are going to perform our favourite Shakespeare monologues and scenes and we’re going to jolly well enjoy it." Fine, but there’s also an audience to consider.
And so it goes on. The real problem is that there is no real logic in the sequence of scenes. We jump from The Winter’s Tale to Romeo and Juliet, but it could just as easily have been the other way round. There’s no rhyme or reason for the scenes that follow other than they appear to be favourites of the cast.
Added to which the staging and costumes are also hugely underwhelming. The actors are clad in grey Primark jogging pants and plimsolls, while the set consists of one, solitary trunk. But hang on a sec, isn’t this production supported by Arts Council munificence? Sans costumes, sans props, sans set… but it could have been so much different.
In fact the real star of this show is arguably the glossy programme, a lavish product that would put West End counterparts to shame. Curiously it’s a programme that then goes on to boast about the genius of creator Conor McKee. Pride it would seem is not just confined to the stage,
At least we know where all that Arts Council cash went.