Twelfth Night @ Upstairs at The Gatehouse

Arrows & Traps’ new repertory season sees the company take on Shakespeare’s Othello and Twelfth Night, where the same cast and crew perform the shows on alternating nights. Directed by Ross McGregor, their Twelfth Night is an entertaining adaption that packs comedy and action into a succinct and digestible performance. Although the traditional Elizabethan costumes feel out of character when compared to the company’s usual contemporary take on Shakespeare’s plays, it doesn’t stop this adaptation from being a successful piece of theatre.

The shipwrecked Viola (Pippa Caddick) finds herself on the shores of Illyria, and without her twin brother by her side, she has no choice but to disguise herself as a young man called Cesario in order to navigate this new place. In Illyria, Duke Orsino (Pearce Sampson) is hopelessly in love with Olivia (Cornelia Baumann), and uses the disguised Viola to help woo the woman he loves. When Olivia begins to fall for the cross-dressed Viola, hilarity ensues, which is made even more complicated by the appearance of a young man who looks exactly like Cesario.

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Photo: The Ocular Creative

As an ensemble the company work well together, steadily keeping the energy of the piece high throughout. Baumann embraces Olivia’s subtle humour with ease, and her performance is refreshing. Portraying the play’s fool is Lloyd Warbery, who hilariously delivers the character’s comedy and responds to the audience’s reactions with confidence. However, this adaptation’s stand out character has to be Malvolio, performed impeccably by Adam Elliott. Although not the most interesting or likeable character in the play, Elliott performs Malvolio with so much brilliance and passion that you can’t help but smile every time he appears on stage. His comedy is on point, and the interactions between him and Feste the fool were the most enjoyable parts of this piece.

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Photo: The Ocular Creative

While the talented cast present Shakespeare’s adaptation with spirit, it is McGregor’s exploration of the relationship between Sebastian and Antonio that is refreshing to see on stage. Viola’s twin Sebastian (Alex Stevens) is rescued by the sailor Antonio (Spencer Lee Osborne), and it appears the two have a sexual relationship. While some adaptations choose to ignore this “problematic” coupling, the director doesn’t shy away from the obvious attraction between the two, but brings it to the surface. Portraying their chemistry on stage is a delightful addition to the plot, which adds another layer of intrigue to Sebastian and Olivia’s pairing.

Running at just over two and a half hours (including an interval) it is always a joy to watch a Shakespeare piece that can engage and hold attention for that period of time. Packed full of comedy, romance, and superb acting, McGregor’s Twelfth Night is an enjoyable adaptation, and a wonderful addition to the Arrows & Traps canon.

Twelfth Night is at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 19th November.

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Fool’s Court @ The Space

This October sees London’s first theatre festival celebrating the rich cultural heritage of Central Asia. Orzu Arts Festival plays host to a huge variety of performances and talks, giving Londoners the opportunity to engage with this part of the world. Konibodom State Drama Theatre from Tajikistan adds to this festival with their play Fool’s Court. Written and directed by Ovlyakuli Khodjakuli, the play fuses parts of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Hamlet, exploring the two stories from the perspective of the Fools. Embracing the clowns’ comedy and witty nature, Khodjakuli gives the two plays a new perspective and a humorous tone.

In the middle of the night, in a cemetery, three Fools appear troubled by their past. One says he is Hamlet, prince of Denmark, grieving the death of his father. He claims his uncle and mother were the cause of his death, and vows revenge. Another swears he is King Lear, distraught by the way his daughters have treated him, seeking to set things straight. With the help of the third Fool, the they set out to find and punish the people who have wronged them, recruiting the audience as judges to help make a decision: should they all die for their crimes?

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Although performed in Tajiki, Khodjakuli borrows some of the text from both Shakespeare’s plays, weaving his own words into this devised piece. The emphasis is made on the physical comedy of the characters, which helps bring down the language barriers, allowing the humour to come through. There is some audience participation in the show, as the three-man cast warrants a Goneril, Regan, Gertrude and Claudius from the audience, but this never becomes awkward. The participatory nature of the piece alleviates the comedy, allowing the clowns to enjoy interacting with everyone, and vice versa. Additionally, Khodjakuli’s choice to represent the characters of Hamlet and King Lear as Fools is a welcome interpretation, and one which neatly but grotesquely ties the two plays together. Overall, Fool’s Court, is an enjoyable piece of devised theatre, that mixes Shakespeare and clowning superbly, and is a brilliant addition to the Orzu Arts Festival.

Orzu Arts Festival runs until 20th October. 

The Taming of the Shrew @ C South, Edinburgh Fringe

Performed  by Soon Chun Hyang University’ English Drama Club, The Taming of the Shrew is an up-beat and funky adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. The company fuse traditional Korean performance with modern-day hip hop to produce a hilariously bawdy play that explores the theme of harmony between old and new.

Katharina loves hip hop, but her father Baptista wants her to be more like her younger sister Bianca, who loves traditional Korean music and dance. Because of her amiable qualities, many of the village’s young men are fond of Bianca, but Baptista is only willing to let his daughter marry after her older sister has done so. The men hatch a plan to find a suitor for Kate, and Petruchio is seen to be a perfect match for her. Petruchio attempts to tame Kate’s non-traditional characteristics, and hilarity ensues, culminating into a happy ending for both of the sisters.

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The play is condensed into 60 minutes of energetic comedy. In particular Won Chui Choi is brilliant as Lucentio, who endearingly falls in love with various members of the audience before finally choosing Bianca. The lewd imagery is heightened by the performers’ amusing physical comedy, especially during the scene changes. While the clownish performances are humorous, there are some beautiful moments in the play too. The opening traditional dance is one of them, and the elegance of the performers skillfully moving around the sage is stunning. The best thing about the adaptation is Director Kim Han Baek’s focus on female empowerment. In the end of the play, Kate defies her “taming” by continuing her love for hip hop. The other performers join in with her dancing too, and the play marvellously ends with a strong female character challenging the norm, which makes this adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew superb.

 

Macbeth @ ZOO, Edinburgh Fringe

Fortitude Dance Theatre are a Nottingham-based company made up of students currently studying at various drama schools around the UK. Their debut show Macbeth is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s place set in the Acid House scene of 1989 Manchester. While the idea of this setting is a welcome approach to the text, especially by a young group of performers, the execution isn’t solid enough for a strong performance.

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After encountering three witches, Macbeth and his friend Banquo are spooked by their prophecy. When their first prediction comes true, Macbeth calls his wife to let her know what he has witnessed. In order to make sure what the witches foretold comes true, that Macbeth shall “be King hereafter,” the couple concoct a plan to kill their leader Duncan and fulfil the prophecy. Blood begets blood, until Macbeth meets a deadly end.

The company are skilled with their movements and the dancing in the performance is the most promising element of it, but there isn’t enough of it in the show. This “physical theatre” adaptation doesn’t get physical until Duncan’s murder scene a third of the way in, which is a disappointment. The performers also need to work on the delivery of their lines, as most couldn’t fully grasp which words to emphasise, often spitting the speeches out quickly. While the Acid House elements are present in the costume design and music of the show, more could have been done to incorporate the psychedelic nature of the genre. This would have worked especially well with the witches, and would have emphasised their supernatural nature. Overall, Fortitude Dance Theatre’s Macbeth lacks the understanding and energy to be an effective adaptation.

As You Like It @ Spotlites, Edinburgh Fringe

Directed by Nicholas Barter and performed by the Shanghai Theatre Academy, As You Like It is a retelling of Shakespeare’s play set in 1920s China. The play celebrates the 400th anniversary of the deaths of Shakespeare and Chinese playwright Tang Xianu, continuing the poets’ legacies. By focusing on the changes in China as it entered the 20th Century, and how these influenced clothes, music and tradition, Barter emphasises the themes of change in the play.

Rosalind, the daughter of the banished Duke Senior, is removed from the Chinese Court by her uncle Duke Frederick. At the same time the young gentleman Orlando, who she is in love with, is forced to leave his home too. Rosalind takes refuge in the Forest of Arden, along with her cousin Celia and court jester Touchstone, donning a male disguise to keep the three of them safe. When she sees Orlando in the forest, Rosalind decides to establish whether or not his love for her is true by appearing to him in her male attire. This leads to hilarious encounters of mistaken identity and the union of many couples in the end.

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While the love between Rosalind and Orlando is the central story of As You Like It, this adaptation really emphasises the loving relationship between cousins Rosalind and Celia. The two are inseparable, playfully roaming the stage together. The performers beautifully present the love between the two girls with warmth and sincerity. The humour of the piece shines through in particular with the physical comedy of the characters. Touchstone’s clownish appearance is entertaining, and he receives the most laughs from the audience. Unfortunately, the comedy of his speech is somewhat lost in translation due to the mismatched surtitles, and the non-Mandarin speaking members of the audience can miss the cultural relevance of the jokes. But the physicality of the character’s humour transcends the language barrier, which heightens the comedy of Touchstone.

In cross-cultural adaptations of Shakespeare’s work, it is always fascinating to uncover what elements companies attempt to focus on and how this affects the understanding of their culture and interpretation. For the students of Shanghai Theatre Academy, the emphasis is on the humour in the play, but also the strong female friendship displayed in it, which highlights the empowering changes in early 20th Century China.

A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming & Dreaming Under the Southern Bough @ theSpace@Niddry St, Edinburgh Fringe

Developed by the University of Leeds and the University of International Business and Economics in China, this double bill of plays is inspired by Shakespeare and Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu. To celebrate the 400th anniversary of their deaths, the students from both universities have created these works with emphasis on the theme of dreaming. While A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming is a fun and playful piece, Dreaming Under the Southern Bough lacks the magical qualities of Xianzu’s play Nanke Ji which it is based on.

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In A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, young couple Hermia and Lysander take some time off University to retreat to Sophora Nest Hotel. When they arrive, they are greeted by three playful spirits who welcome their visit. The couple are followed by their friends Helena and Demetrius. Regardless of Lysander’s relationship status, Helena is in love with him, and despite this, Demetrius is hopelessly devoted to her. In order to satisfy their interest in these mortal beings, the spirits put a spell on Hermia and Helena, and the two fall in love with Demetrius, leading to hilariously compromising situations.

This light-hearted adaptation directed by Li Jun emphasises comedic stereotypes and physical humour. Demetrius is performed superbly by Sun Bingchang and stands out from the other characters with his exaggerated, geeky nature, which adds further comical effect to Hermia and Helena’s obsessions with him. The only uncomfortable elements of the piece are the sudden performances of rap. With no other elements of this style of music present in the play, the rapping is jarring and also very awkward. Aside from that however, by focusing entirely on the young lovers in the play and drawing on teenage rom-com tropes, Jun has created a delightfully youthful adaptation.

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The second play of the double bill, directed by Steve Ansell, follows Chenyu (George Clifford), a young officer who is struggling with the memories he has of being on the front lines and losing his fellow officers. After an encounter with a spiritual woman (Cao Xinyi), Chenyu goes on an enlightening journey, where he marries Princess Yaofang (Milly Stell), encounters war again and learns to be a better man.

Performed straight after A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, the more spiritual and serious nature of Dreaming Under the Southern Bough is a welcome tone. At first, the play seems interesting, as it explores affects of post traumatic stress disorder on those in the military. However, this idea isn’t developed further, nor are any other concepts in the play. Things are alluded to, like spirituality and enlightenment, but it isn’t explored in depth. The quick time lapses in the performance means the action moves too quickly, not allowing enough time for some of the themes to progress. Barely any emphasis is made about Chenyu’s metamorphosis into an ant, and he is hardly surprised by what is happening to him. When he finally wakes up from the dream, he is a transformed man, but Clifford’s lack of character development in his performance makes the change in him hard to believe. On this occasion, Dreaming Under the Southern Bough needs more work to turn it into a coherent and engaging piece of work.

A Midsummer Night’s DREAMING Under the Southern Bough will touring in China between 14th – 28th September.

Macbeth @ C, Edinburgh Fringe

It is always a challenge to find a new approach to any Shakespeare play, and when the Fringe boasts of over 10 productions and adaptations of Macbeth, it can be hard to stick out from the crowd. But when a group of 17-21 year olds from Hackney get together, they’re able to bring a breath of fresh air to Shakespeare’s play.Set in the cutthroat world of the British music industry, TWIST Theatre Company’s Macbeth is an exciting and energetic musical adaptation that does not disappoint.

Duncan King (Kieran Smith), founder of the music label King Records, has worked his way up from a poor London Estate, to owning a successful business in the British Music Industry. Duncan has helped talented young people from his estate also achieve success, like friends Macbeth (Andre Fyffe) and Banquo (Ryan Yengo). When the Witches, a group of three rejected female artists, make predictions about Macbeth and Banquo’s futures, the two brush the young women off. However, as Macbeth’s first prophecy is fulfilled, he becomes determined to do all he can to make sure he gets to the top of King Records as predicted by the Witches. Encouraged by his partner-in-crime Lady M (Malika Cholwe), Macbeth decides to do all he can to achieve this goal, even if that includes murdering those close to him.

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Chowle is the stand-out performer as Lady M. Her beautifully smooth voice exerts power on stage, easily influencing Macbeth’s choices. Similarly the Witches, performed by Dominique Florent-Lee, Shadale Grant and Kali Mcloughlin are outstanding. The hiphop, R&B and Grime influenced music allows the company to play around with Shakespeare’s text, rhythmically weaving it into modern-day London. In particular, the use of Afrobeats during the Witches’ potion scene is very enjoyable to watch, especially as the dancing seemingly intensifies their supernatural power. Like Fyffe and Yengo’s skillful rapping, the Witches use music as a way to strengthen their bond, unity and power.

TWIST Theatre Company’s Macbeth cleverly infuses poetry with music, dance and comedy to create a fresh new adaptation. While highlighting the dog-eat-dog world of the music industry, the company showcases their immense talent and very visible love for performance, producing a great musical. To top it all off, the show ends with a step dance, so what’s not to like?

Macbeth is at C (+1) until 20th August.