Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Last Life: A Shakespeare Play is a collection of Shakespeare’s words retold out of context, revealing the evolution of a relationship in a poetic, balletic and captivating performance.
‘Last Life’ is presented as a magical coupling. The stage is laid out by a spiritual presence, a ring created around the actors to emphasise the competitive nature of what is to come in their relationship. Soft, rounded mid-Atlantic accents from this multinational company fall soft on English ears, warming the text. The two performers entwine, slide and cavort in tightly choreographed movement as the words flow over us, occasionally jarring out of context, but more often one wonders at the skill of the performers and the writing in creating such a beautiful piece of theatre that is part dance, part drama, part physical and spiritual awakening.
Shakespeare text drawn from across all genres from sonnets to tragedies are used to reveal the emergence of a relationship played out between a couple of lithe beings manipulated in their duet by an ethereal presence. We start in familiar territory with a bit of ‘Much Ado but are swiftly transported to another realm. The danger is perhaps that the audience can play a game of recognise the quote rather than let the play take them on a journey, but that journey is worth taking. The piece is imaginative in concept and delivery as much as it is inventive and clever in its reallocation of Shakespeare text; Lady Macbeth’s “Unsex me here” becoming a literal plea to Hamlet’s “what a piece of work is (wo)man”. This mash-up of classical text may not always please the purist, but it as a piece of theatre it was unusual, ambitious and captivating.
The lovers are played by Esther Sophia Artner and Mikaal Bates who perform with enormous grace and skill. Artner is all silky movement and achieves remarkable articulacy not just in her delivery but also with her graceful physicality and poetic presence. Bates’ performance is perfectly in tune, a wonderful fusion of the physical and spiritual. They are accompanied by Khadija Sallet, in the role of Goddess Kismet whose voice echoes around the room and lifts the audience into a higher sphere. Writer director Sara Fay George deserves full credit for her intricate and clever script as well as her imagination and precision in delivering a labour of love.
Ultimately there will be those that find the concept challenging or an affront to Shakespeare, but taken at face value as a fringe performance piece this is simply creative, polished and beautifully performed – an excellent show.