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Brighton Fringe 2019

Low Down

Emily’s Carding’s Quintessence is directed by Dominque Gerrard, with design and sound design by Carding and Gerrard. Till May 12th.



This quintessence of dust is ourselves. Imagine us wiped out by nuclear and poisoned fallout, but having had the vestigial sense to create androids with a full knowledge of Shakespeare to recreate us as Humanity 2.0 when time and the bio-domes are right. And imagine them trying three times, softly discarding the failures to the hostile environment outside, and addressing that third perfected – manicured – generation after 100 years.


This is Emily’s Carding’s Quintessence, directed by Dominque Gerrard, with design and sound design by Carding and Gerrard. As you might expect from Carding, whose one-woman Richard III and Hamlet have received the finest accolades, it’s jaw-droppingly assured in the various Shakespeare scenes delivered. But it’s far more ambitious than that.


Not only does Carding give us a far wider range of characters, from Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, Richard III and Henry V, nor that she registers these things softly, whispering without effect and full affect. This speaks a range even broader and subtler than before.


It’s the way Carding flicks back to android mode (a rather heavy robotic speech used to compensate for the humanity when the android acts). The way the sound production and lighting synchs – literally snaps to Carding and Carding to it (what’s Prospero to Carding, and Carding to it?), as she sashays through the sad history of our former selves as we, like children graduating, are regaled with our own warnings, replete with sound-bites from history, including some shuddering ones from David Attenborough to Donald Trump. It’s the tightest such synchronicity I’ve seen in any Fringe production. As expected it’s quite magical.


The narrative though its interrupted by a couple of things. Shakespeare’s not the only thing this android remembers. Mary Shelley’s suddenly red-lit monster erupts from the android to be quickly rebooted. What does that mean? Is there any relation to what happens next, a little miscalculation, two in fact, by those loving androids? And what can the androids ask of us, the graduands?


Carding is able to invest each character from the Shakespeare bank playing to strengths even her previous works hasn’t quite hinted at. Thus her roaring Henry V might be in that compass we expect, but not the more gentle side of the revealing Paulina from The Winter’s Tale. Nor the softness she brings to Juliet without ever acting out in flashes of lightning from that play. These slivers are intimate, heartfelt and various.


That famous Hamlet speech Carding now fillets with an interruptive commentary, discussing why Prospero Androids have decided on a certain course. In itself it’s a microcosm of why genome-filleting is deemed necessary, and why for instance Henry V is invoked. As an exercise in deconstruction, it’s a masterly affirmation and dissection of what Shakespeare’s warnings say about ingrained human traits. Are they in our DNA, or should we think of something else? And if we do? Return to the Forbidden Planet isn’t the only use of Shakespeare to transport us beyond the stars.


There’s a superb cliff-edge to this outstanding production. I’ll leave you there.