Adelaide Fringe 2011
Gabrielle Metcalf in association with Notre Dame University
Venue: Bakehouse Theatre
An exploration of what might have been if Shakespeare’s characters had had access to contemporary forms of technology such as mobile phones, texting, video games and Facebook. While the script loses its way more than once, this is an intriguing modern look at Shakespeare with great potential appeal among the younger generation.
@shakespeare.com starts with The Journalist walking out on stage, reporting that a time-travelling robot called PUC has escaped (presumably from some government facility). It then cuts to a girl known as Cobweb – the role she’s apparently playing in an upcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – throwing down her copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare in disgust. Suddenly, PUC appears and, after a brief conversation with Cobweb, brings William Shakespeare himself into the present day. Shakespeare, Cobweb and PUC spend the rest of the play debating whether or not certain Shakespearean plays could benefit from a contemporary twist. Interspersed throughout this argument are a number of classic Shakespeare scenes performed by the rest of the cast, with technological elements – mobile phones, texting, video games, Facebook – added to them.
If the above leaves you confused and a little dubious, don’t worry. The play’s storyline is anything but cohesive, and will need considerable reworking before any future productions are staged. The main problem with the script is that it tries to do too much; not content with simply inserting modern technology into Shakespeare, it makes a big effort to connect them with social issues. The Journalist reappears on stage every so often to shove messages about cyberbullying and Facebook suicides down the audience’s throat, which detracts from, rather than reinforces, the ‘Shakespeare + technology’ aspect of the play. The plot device driving the whole production, the time-travelling robot, is tacky, and often gets lost amid the maelstrom of narratives – Shakespearean re-enactments, Journalistic announcements, as well as other random scenes which don’t do anything at all, like the entire cast getting down to Soulja Boy’s ‘Crank This.’ All of this extraneous hubble-bubble takes the focus off the show’s actual premise – examining what Shakespeare’s characters would have done if they’d had contemporary technologies at their disposal.
It’s when the show remembers this that it really shines. Some of the best moments in the show rework the story of Romeo and Juliet; Romeo stopping in the middle of the balcony scene to take a call from Mercutio – ‘forsooth, my love, I must take verily of this call’ – is pure comic magic, as is the modification of R&J’s ending, which sees Romeo quashing his suicidal tendencies after discovering an Internet dating site. It’s worth noting at this point that the actors – Theatre Studies students from Notre Dame University in Fremantle – did a remarkably convincing job, despite the less-than-perfect material they had to work with. While there was the occasional flubbed line, there were some stand-out performances, namely from the lad playing Shakespeare himself, as well as some feisty, animated acting from the girl playing Cobweb.
It’s also worth noting that the show was clearly written with a younger (i.e. teenage) audience in mind, and judging by the enthusiastic reception from the surprisingly many teenagers in the audience, it certainly hit the mark with them. No doubt it was refreshing to see the texts they’ve been forced to study in school lampooned and made more accessible. All in all, while it wasn’t always realised, @shakespeare.com has an undeniably strong premise and some great comic moments which will certainly entertain younger audience members, and is an excellent pathway into widening the Bard’s fanbase among the younger generation.