Edinburgh Fringe 2013
American High School does a musical may not be inspired but this Glee fused Shakespearean classic has some high points in amongst less competent moments but nonetheless as an idea it has legs even though it doesn’t chase you down Princes Street.
This is Shakespeare fast and loose for the now generation. Where we should expect to hear lots of Elizabethan dialogue we now have that mixed with popular song choices – thus making the title exactly what you see in performance. There are inevitable cuts in a drama that can fill the two hour traffic of our stage when it needs to be delivered in an hour. We can argue about the cuts – No Queen Mab – but who cares, this may not be for purists but it is meant to give us an insight into how this bunch of teenagers can access the dense mystery of the greatest writer for the English stage. As such it doesn’t quite manage it but there are enough understandable set pieces that we never get lost.
Now marry, here’s the thing. The concept is what I liked the most. As someone who adores Shakespeare this is exactly why – it can take the radical and enjoy the implausible. Some of the moments onstage with this cast were great but the dialogue still caused them some issues. It was at its best in ensemble singing with some fine soloists too but there was at least one bum note throughout. I was delighted to hear they understood the text but the pace! It began far from sedately but ended up as if it had a plane to catch! Much of the rich texture was lost because it was rushed and this cast would have delivered it much better had they been given it to recite without the issue of a deadline.
Having said that the performances were of a particularly high standard for the age and stage of the cast but charging the prices they did may have made them hostages to fortune. The cast were as you might expect, variable in their abilities. Romeo needs to hit the tune on the first note and not be flat, a fight director needed to be employed but the Nurse, Nicole Seefried, was superb. She was mature and assured in her delivery and when we heard her tie was time to relax and enjoy the scene. Towards the end, though she became as guilty as the rest of garbling her way to a conclusion but at other times gave a fantastically comic touch.
I was rather confused by the staging. All that wrapping performers up in cloth for what appeared to be no good reason may have been due to it fitting into their suitcases from Denver but it left me focussed on what they were doing rather than being a backdrop. The Friar’s ring of cloth, in particular, just seemed a little silly. It felt like there was a grander design somewhere but it had to be cut down to get it to Edinburgh. Where it worked was in the tomb. I was also not really keen on the mixture of Elizabethan costume up against what appeared to be modern/20th Century attire.
This is a company that appears to be keen to display their wares. That it did not wholly work is not a hanging issue and they ought to be commended for having a darn good idea and getting it across the Atlantic in a massive boost for the young people involved. It would, however, be condescending, not to analyse what that contribution was. There is clearly a decent hand and set of ideas at work here but the mixture of ages and stages of the young people make life difficult. I think choosing Romeo and Juliet is where that creativity faltered. It needed either to be a devised or new piece of writing or chuck the Elizabethan language more to one side and concentrate on the set pieces and songs that made this work and be worthy.
The audience who joined me were appreciative and applause was long and enthusiastic. I felt, though it was led by more cheerleaders than audience members. This was a Shakespeare that didn’t leave me gleeful but certainly glad that I came.