It’s the present day, and William Shakespeare is alive and well. Hamlet has just opened and the Bard is doing his first ever TV interview with Martina Fleur, alongside his rival Sir Francis Bacon. An interesting premise with potential for pun-based humour and some comedic political flair. Unfortunately, I could not have been more disappointed.
At best, Shakespeare Tonight was confusing. There was no explanation for why or how the 16th and 21st centuries have collided and seem to be moving along a parallel continuum. There was no logic to the staging – I completely lost track of what was backstage, onstage, the wings, why the characters kept walking around when they clearly had no reason to go anywhere, what The Duke was actually supposed to be doing, why there was a piano on the stage… My eyelids began to droop as the actors over-zealously regurgitated lines of poorly scripted history, and I prayed for something, anything, to redeem this play.
At worst, Shakespeare Tonight was somewhat insulting, both to its audience – you don’t need to explain the jokes, we know who Shakespeare is – and its characters. The blurb suggests that the audience will “watch Martina battle for control as these two heavyweights slug it out live in the TV studio”, when in fact there was no battle whatsoever. There is some irony to the fact that they discussed whether Shakespeare was sexist (whilst lightly mocking feminist pioneers, might I add), while the main female character was dolled up in a style reminiscent of Jessica Rabbit, most of her lines reduced to cheap innuendo and girlish giggles. I have no doubt that if a real-life chat show host allowed her guests to completely take over the show as Bill and Bacon did here, she would be fired on the spot. Likewise, these two men would quickly become notorious as media’s rudest interviewees after committing what in the real world would have been PR suicide.
Disappointingly, Shakespeare Tonight felt less like a professional touring production, and more like a Year Six play for particularly bright children. What seemed to be quite an interesting concept ended up no more than a collection of poorly executed half-baked ideas that left me completely perplexed as to how any company allowed it to go onstage.
Shakespeare Tonight by Paul Wilson and Tim Ferguson
Directed by David Parry
Teatro Technis until 6 August 2016, transferring to Paradise in Augustines for the Edinburgh Fringe, 22-27 August 2016
Tickets available here for Camden and Edinburgh.
[Thank you to http://www.TheatreBloggers.co.uk for this opportunity.]