Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Armed with an all female cast and gallons of red paint, the award winning Smooth Faced Gentlemen return with this colourful retelling of Shakespeare’s bloody drama.
Smooth Faced Gentlemen carved their niche for all female productions of Shakespeare, continuing to create innovative and intelligent adaptations that hold their own alongside the big dogs of Bard work. Taking advantage of the numbers of talented female actors that outweigh casting calls, this production displays some superb performances, clever staging, and original design choices, very much in keeping with their fresh and unapologetic style.
The piece begins with a high-energy fight scene, introducing the company’s answer to portraying this violent play – swords are replaced with paintbrushes, and blood with lots and lots of red paint. It’s a clever technique, especially enjoyed when the characters get inventive with the concept. Paintbrushes vary in size and shape, having an effect driven by masculine energy and competition. The violent acts (Warning: Spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the play) of throat slitting, finger cutting, and tongue removal are achieved to sharp affect, and with thorough conviction.
Performances from the strong ensemble cast vary, but there is a thorough understanding and some interesting interpretations of the text. Titus is performed by a very capable Henri Merriam, but it is Emily Bairstow’s Tamora that steals the show. The young actress has a presence that you are unable to take your eyes off from start to finish, teamed with a righteous and gutsy Aaron, played by Anita-Joy Uwajeh, who is also a name to watch.
It’s a very enjoyable and satisfying show, the story told with a punchy pace and well judged timing. The choral elements involving the whole cast were particularly well placed, carrying the narrative with an ethereal beauty and aiding troublesome transitions. The pleasing set swelled and swayed with the gravity of the character’s realisations, continually surprising and always supporting stage presence. The quality of speech and tackling of some text was unfortunately not as satisfying, with words sometimes lost within one intention or lack of direction. Volume played a large part in this, having a consistent level with little variation, causing the denser moments to fall flat. However, the energy of the young cast makes up for this, with effective multi-rolling and clear, precise physical choices.
I want to say Smooth Faced Gentlemen are certainly paving the way for all-female theatre groups, but the all-female part is not important, and an unfair brush to continuously paint them with. The fact that they create performances with women does not surpass the fact that they make exciting, enjoyable performances as a theatre group, full stop. The fact they tackle the arguably misogynistic works of the Bard delivers a delicious piece of irony to their mission statement, which certainly feeds into their directing and staging choices. This performance is bold, ballsy, and challenges the audience with imagery that burns onto your brain, but probably best avoided by the squeamish.