Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Shakespeare Conspiracy - review

Written by: Ryan J. Brown (@freakyriddles)

Chelsea Theatre, London

At the centre of Shepherd’s The Shakespeare Conspiracy is the inspired notion that all of William Shakespeare’s characters are 100% living, breathing, and dysfunctional earth dwellers. Honing in on societies’ infatuation with a decent conspiracy, particularly the multitude surrounding the Bard, Shepherd intelligently creates a fast-paced, melodramatic and meta-theatrical delight that draws its audience in with a constant blend of glowing pop-culture references and intelligent narrative.

Photo: Holly Wren
Martin Shakespeare, played with perfect petulant and panicked notes by Andrew London, is the last remaining descendant of the Shakespeare bloodline; a travel agent from Stratford caught up in a 400 year old conspiracy involving a Government agency operating under the guise of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and a security unit inside the Globe Theatre that houses Shakespeare’s creations, who are mostly villains that plot to destroy the world and vindicate themselves.

Photo: Holly Wren
The Shakespeare Conspiracy, not unlike a cocktail, is a tasty concoction that is both sweet and equally sour, borrowing from several other materials: often sounding much better on paper and leaving the audience with a great hangover as they try and fathom what just happened. With a teaspoon of Blackadder, a good squeeze of Dan Brown, a dash of Joss Whedon, 25ml of Douglas Adam and a handful of Christopher Nolan’s highly conceptual narrative, The Shakespeare Conspiracy is a bawdy and experimental adventure that is somehow very original despite reliance on reference to other material. Issues do arise in Shepherd’s script when he veers towards screenplay-like ambition and the biggest downfall of all is that characters do suffer at the expense of such lengthy exposition; however hilarious they might be, many characters never grow out much further than being good for a few jokes. The character of Garfield Oberon for example is the spitting image of Samuel L. Jackson’s character Nick Fury from the Marvel Avengers movie. Oberon not only shares a similar role but also Jackson’s disposition and even a line almost identical to the film (“we have a Puck” – “we have a Hulk”), which is undoubtedly much fun to play but is never more than a borrowed image. The character of Edmund the Bastard (played by the roguishly funny Lee White) closely channels Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow and Shepherd himself, as Iago (a stand-out performance), is a methodically manipulative Moriarty with the wild theatricality of every Bond villain ever.

The fast-paced direction and genius concept somewhat make up for the one-dimensional personalities that the actors also try very hard to bring to life. Despite this character neglect, the production is immensely enjoyable and hard to fault. With a fantastic set that fits perfectly into the Chelsea Theatre’s black-box space, there is breath-taking fight choreography and hilarious performances from nearly all of the cast, in particular the talented Jack Baldwin as Benedick and charismatic Libby Evans as Beatrice. This occasionally feels like an extended comedy sketch, but the daring ensemble distract just enough for us to take a silly journey with a powerful conclusion that leaves us lamenting for some time after.

This production runs until 24 November 2012. 
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good review!