Edinburgh Fringe 2014
High-octane celebration of Billy Shakespeare’s 450th birthday that’s perfect for pre-teens and anyone with a wacky sense of humour. Packed with audience participation, pantomime gags and smelly socks!
Shakespeare would have been 450 this year and lots of people are celebrating the occasion by dusting off their favourite play, sonnet or adaptation or, in the case of The Playground Theatre Company, coming up with inventive ways of introducing the Bard’s words to a more youthful audience.
Billy’s Birthday Bash is aimed squarely at those yet to reach double digits in terms of their own anniversary celebrations so it’s audience participation from the word go as a hard-working and talented trio of actors grab the attention of the easily bored and then retain it with a high-octane rattle through three of Billy’s more accessible works – Macbeth (come on, we’re in Scotland and the big vote is just over a month away), Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night.
With absolutely no set and not a single prop in sight, our trio had just words and actions to get the stories across, plus, of course, the youngsters in the audience. Most children, when caught up in the magic of a story, have zero inhibitions when it comes to audience participation, whether solicited by those on stage or not, which is just how one wee soul managed to steal a couple of scenes with superbly timed, unscripted interjections.
To their credit, those who were supposed to be telling the tale took these ad libs in the spirit in which they were offered and just carried on regardless. Hardly surprising when you consider what’s happened to them already – there should have been a fourth actor, but she fell and broke an ankle on the first night leaving them a witch short at a critical moment in Macbeth and needing to press a co-operative member of the audience into service during a critical moment in Twelfth Night.
Kids’ interest was maintained with regular incursions into the audience by the actors, plenty of pantomime style badinage, lots of chat about smelly socks and bogeys, and the chance to be part of Macduff’s rebel army and take part in a fierce battle. There was a smattering of Shakespeare’s prose from each of the plays to keep the intellectuals happy and enough straight narration to keep everyone in touch with the plot so the hour passed without young or not-so-young losing interest.
If the second and third plays felt a little rushed, it was perhaps because the troupe was trying to squeeze the proverbial quart into a pint pot. But, given the frantic script revisions and additional learning that they must have had to undertake having lost a quarter of their acting resource after just one performance, they deserve tremendous credit for putting on a high quality show that hit the spot. Definitely worth a visit.