#Tweetingit –3*** Shakespeare in a modern beat style, free sweeties and a party hat? Grab those ping pong balls and watch them go!
Shook Up Shakespeare does pretty much what it says on the tin. Helen Watkinson and Roseanna Morris set the company up in 2015 to approach the works of Shakespeare with a new sense of playfulness, irreverence and spontaneity; and in the process alter perceptions of both actors and the audience. A major part of this ethos aims to recreate the spirit of a Shakespearian playhouse, rowdy and brash with a festive atmosphere; and that’s what Midsummer Madness achieves with a five strong cast playing female characters from the Bard’s plays. Elizabeth Menabney plays Adriana from the Comedy of Errors; Phoebe Rhodes is Olivia from Twelfth Night; Madelyn Smedley takes on the role of Portia from the Merchant of Venice; while Genevieve Berkeley-Steele plays Beatrice from Much Ado about nothing; and Melissa Vaughan becomes emcee in the guise of Faerie Queene from A Midsummer night’s Dream.
Members of the audience were presented with a goodie bag as they entered the theatre and donned party hats as the performance began. Clad in nothing more elaborate than jeans, tee-shirt and trainers, the girls were in full tag team mode as they took centre stage with a mixture of songs and recitals. Improvisation soon kicked in as a jar of sweets and ping pong balls made their way through opposite sides of the audience. In true pass the parcel style, the music stopped and whoever was holding the jar had to pick a ping pong ball. One selection had a number on it while another had a descriptive command, for example ‘stage freight’ or ‘newsflash’. The number related to one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Whilst the jars only contained a limited amount of ping pong balls and routines were well rehearsed, they had no idea of the sequence and were generally well constructed.
A series of interactive games followed which again got the audience involved. A lady in the front row became bell ringer, which signalled delivery of a different line often at breakneck speed, which again was well executed. Audience participation soon branched out into a blind date style dating game with the Faerie Queene filling Cilla Black’s shoes. Beatrice, Adriana, Olivia and Portia were given 30 seconds each to win the affections of an eligible bachelor in the audience. Aside from a stop watch that refused to work properly it was another routine that really well.
Overall, Midsummer Madness is great fun and tries to break down the stuffiness that often dogs the Bard’s work. By hearing extracts from different plays, you appreciate the ingenuity and beauty of Shakespeare’s prose, but a newcomer to the genre may still get lost unless they do some pre-show research on the characters presented. Apart from that it’s a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend 60 minutes which passes by all too quickly.
Written & Directed by: Helen Watkinson
Producer: Shook Up Shakespeare
Booking Link: http://www.rosemarybranchtheatre.co.uk/?event=shook-up-shakespeare
Box Office: 0207 704 6665
Booking until: 19 June 2016 with further shows throughout the summer