I have been really struggling to come up with a topic for my dissertation, so any chance I get to be inspired, I take it. This is why it was great to go along to The Pleasance to watch Work Bard Play Bard, an evening of short Shakespeare performances focussing on issues surrounding gender in his work. The show, curated by Smooth Faced Gentleman, included performances by established companies as well as those who are not as well-known. I think there were definitely some very interesting ideas explored throughout the evening, and new faces that should get a chance to develop these ideas further. Smooth Faced Gentleman were great, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes from their Titus Andronicus. Ashlea Kaye and Stella Taylor as Demitrius and Chiron were on point and full of energy. Kudzi Hudson’s portrayal of Aaron was superb, especially during Act 4 Scene 2 (Aaron is presented with his newborn son). By choosing to perform this scene in particular, the all-female company begin to draw comparisons between Tamora and Aaron. Both are now mothers, who are brutal and barbaric to other characters, yet compassionate towards their own children. I think the company generally have the gender problems in Shakespeare sussed out and I hope to see more of their work!
The evening also included several monologues, and the one that stood out to me the most was Tongue To Tell performed by Alex Marlow. He brought to life a short piece inspired by Titus Andronicus, portraying a male Lavinia, after her rape. The idea I think is pretty good and quite an interesting place to start thinking about gender in Shakespeare. Marlow repeats the line “it doesn’t happen to men” several times which is a thought provoking concept that can lead to further discussions about rape culture. I would really like to see where Marlow goes with this short piece, which I think has the potential to be a fascinating performance. I know that I have only mentioned Titus Andronicus performances so far, but the whole show wasn’t all doom and gloom! The fact that some of the comedy from the evening actually came from not-so-funny plays shows that experimenting with gender can contribute new ideas to Shakespeare’s work. The Handlebards’ Glamis Thou Art (from Macbeth) was particularly amusing, especially because of their choice to use shuttlecocks to represent boobs. Le Mot Juste also used costume and props to explore gender differences in the beginning of their scene from The Merchant of Venice, which was a lot of fun to watch.
Finally, I just want to say that ending the show with Rosalind’s Epilogue from As You Like It was very fitting. Directed by Scott Ellis, and performed perfectly by Sarah Milton, the Epilogue was a great way to conclude the evening. Overall, I was very pleased to be in a theatre full of people who want to explore and experiment with Shakespeare, and I really do hope that some of the new short pieces lead to bigger ones I can watch, because they really do have that potential.