Edinburgh Fringe 2019
High octane entertainment in an hour of bewitching comedy, slapstick and physical theatre that brilliantly conveys every element of one of Shakespeare’s most complex plays to an audience aged from three to…..well, a lot older.
When you’ve got just four in your cast and one of your number trips over his shoelaces and up a set of stairs fracturing his left arm, spraining his right and acquiring some delicate new facial needlework two days before the start of your Fringe run, you might well curse the Gods of fate.
Rubbish Shakespeare Company, however, didn’t bat the proverbial eyelid. They simply re-wrote half the script, threw in a selection of one-liners about the poor unfortunate’s inability to knot a shoelace and carried on regardless in the finest traditions of the theatre.
And what a spectacle they presented. Nominally aimed at the younger end of the age spectrum, this clever, inventive take on one of the Bard’s most complex comedies had the adults as entranced as the offspring they’d dragooned into attending. It was full-on entertainment from the stand-up improv that engaged the audience as it entered to the chaotic slapstick denouement as the Mechanicals deliver their ham-fisted play within the play.
And that plot? Pairs of star-crossed lovers, a bunch of hammy actors wanting to perform a play within this play, Fairy Queens, jealous boyfriends and the sometimes invisible, mercurial Puck. Simple it isn’t, so it’s not surprising that many adults often struggle to grasp the kernel of this play let alone the myriad nuances and intricacies Shakespeare buried in the characters and text.
Hats off then to this genius of a company for delivering one of the most innovative adaptations I’ve seen in a way that remained true to the original story, encapsulated a lot of Shakespeare’s text yet also ensured that both the buffs and those new to the Bard could follow them every step of the way.
Their use of costuming and props helped. And, like in all good shows, this was disarmingly simple. Primary coloured T shirts so we knew who was who, togas and crowns, aprons and jackets, outrageous wigs, extravagant facial hair, light sabres, comedy swords and water pistols. Yes, water pistols. Beware those water pistols, especially if you like to sit anywhere near the stage. They are deployed to great effect to deliver “love juices” and “antidotes” to the many and various lovers the Bard deploys.
And what fun our quartet had with the language! Original text delivered at breakneck speed, a pause, a modern day translation to make sure we’re all still with it, then off we go again. The seeds of a gag are scattered around the auditorium, watered as the plot evolves and each gag then bursts into bloom at the most unexpected moment. It’s ingenious writing matched by split-second timing in terms of its delivery. There’s also some terrific physical theatre, clever slapstick, pantomime, ad libbing and improv, coupled with innumerable quick character and costume changes.
What really marks this troupe out, though, is the way they handled the audience, young and old. They broke the fourth wall every couple of minutes in a way that was natural, seamless and effective. They also ensured that the audience became a part of the show on a number of occasions – what child wouldn’t love to be invited on to a stage and asked to spray a “love potion” at a prostrate actor. Cue water everywhere and general bedlam.
This is a show that comes very highly recommended. Great writing, inventive improv, attention grabbing energy, superb delivery and a sense of comic timing that bordered on the genius. Go and see it. Even if it’s just you and your bus pass – it’s one of those rare pieces of theatre with something for everyone.