Proving that there is life after Shakespeare, Tortive Theatre/Finding The Will’s series of monologues ask the question what happened next? A range of characters from the Bard’s works appear to give us the answer to this and develop a further focus on their lives and backgrounds. This is, in many ways, similar to the approach taken by Tim Crouch in his I… Malvolio/Cinna/Peaseblossom/Banquo/Caliban series channelled through the “Heads” format developed by Alan Bennett. Each of the six pieces is playing just once as a livestreamed performance on successive Thursday evenings. They are written by Jules Hobbs and Richard Curnow who also take it in turns to introduce us to a new face each week as they take the spotlight.
The series kicked off with The Third Witch From The Left examining events in Scotland through the prism of time. It lets us know what was really going on with the weird sisters when 16 year old Meg joined the others on the blasted heath “there to meet with Macbeth”. The play actually takes place in a modern domestic kitchen where Meg, now a sprightly 400+ year old, goes online to reveal all to her therapy group – us. Though she is now an astrologer and cook (and claims to be the inventor of the plum duff pudding, named in honour of Macbeth’s nemesis) she is troubled in her soul about what happened back then and needs to get it off her chest. What follows is an amusing fifty minutes in which Jules Hobbs channels the happy nature (and almost the accent) of Pam Ayres and lets us into Meg’s dark secrets, including her ongoing relationship with Malcolm (no spoilers). Although it isn’t essential to know much about the original play it certainly helps you to pick up some of the clever referencing. Even without that, there are some definite laugh aloud moments – I particularly liked the line about Merlin and the Wizard of Oswestry. It’s the sort of wordplay joke which Terry Pratchett does so well. Scenes are short enough to retain interest but long enough to allow for development and Hobbs is an engaging performer who develops her character way beyond the standard cackling, pointy hatted harridan to give us a witch with a conscience.
The second piece takes Hamlet as its background and has the title Call Me Oz – not Oswestry this time round but Osric the popinjay courtier who officiates at the climactic fencing duel. 40 odd years on, like Meg, he is also in therapy though he seems to find it of rather less benefit. Emotionally, spiritually and, yes, physically constipated he has consistently failed to follow Polonius’s key advice: ‘This above all: to thine own self be true/ And it must follow, as the night the day/ Thou canst not then be false to any man” with the result that he has become increasingly catty and spiteful in his dealings with others. Following what he sees as a whitewash biography of the “sweet prince” by best friend Horatio, Osric embarks on a round of media chat show appearances where he verbally fences with the hosts, starts to open up and eventually goes too far. Richard Curnow has developed an interesting if somewhat unlikeable character who with his archly camp persona, his repressed nature, his scathingly witty remarks, his appearances on the talk show circuit and his preoccupation with his bowels seems to be a tribute to the late Kenneth Williams; indeed at one point Curnow even did “the voice”. Fortunately, this was a gamble that generally paid off and made for an interesting monologue. However, the technical aspects were plagued by low bandwidth demons and the choice of wearing black against a black background often meant the actor became just a head – given the title of the series maybe that was intentional, but I found it a bit disconcerting.
By week three a familiar pattern was starting to emerge and, sure enough, The Dust Behind The Door caught up with one of Shakespeare’s recognised characters many years after the events in the “parent” play had occurred. Thus, we heard from Hermia, one of the lover’s quartet from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the short one if that’s any help – “Though she be but little, she is fierce”. The foursome is still around and involved in each other’s lives. They have now hit middle age and the inevitable accompanying crisis; Hermia suspects she is suffering from the menopause. Helena meanwhile has retreated into alcoholism convinced that hubby Demetrius fancies another woman; he does – Hermia. Unsuspecting Lysander continues to be a rather boring “steady Eddie” which both comforts and infuriates his wife – shades of the popular Carla Lane sitcom Butterflies here. When Demetrius makes a declaration to Hermia it looks like history may be just about to repeat itself, but Hermia is rather wiser than she once was. Besides she’s concerned about her Dad, Egeus and his apparent need to try and engage with a robin who he claims is a fairy. If you know the original play well enough the denouement about this aspect will come as no surprise. Several others of the Dream characters pop up in the course of Hermia’s monologue and it’s good to know that the Peter Quince players are still going strong. It is Jules Hobbs turn to be back in the spotlight and although I preferred her performance in the first show this was an interesting characterisation which engaged with the text and the audience.
Bard Heads is shaping up to be a well written and engagingly performed series which aims to recapture the uniqueness of “real” theatre by only being performed live. The monologues play with the notion of the effects of the past on the present and the state of people’s well being. Their primary function, though, is to entertain and in this they are succeeding and will hopefully continue to do so as we go on to hear from characters from Twelfth Night, The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet
The second set of plays is reviewed here
The remaining three shows of Bard Heads will be playing on successive Thursday evenings starting on February 4th. For more details – click here
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