Director: Rob Myles
When plague regularly shut London theatres throughout Shakespeare’s career, he and his actors found ways to continue working. Today is no different. In response to the Covid 19 lockdown, British actor and director Robert Myles quickly created a new platform. The Show Must Go Online presents weekly readings of Shakespeare’s complete works. At first, it sounds like a book club, bringing people together for the love of literature, reading and socialising. This group however has an exciting twist. Myles’s professional actors do not merely read the text— they perform, and with the support of a professional production team, succeed in imaginatively bringing the play to life.
Myles has cleverly embraced the virtual platform to recreate a live theatre experience. We are invited to not only watch but to interact. The live chat feed recreates the much-missed buzz of sitting together with an audience. (The running commentary also provides personalised footnotes. One chat comment helpfully points out that George Jones’s Tybalt notably plays his scenes in front of a wall of Action DVDs). No programme notes to read while sipping a G&T and waiting for Romeo & Juliet to begin? No problem. An impressive young guest speaker, Annabelle Higgins, introduces the evening. Not much older than Juliet, Higgins insightfully suggests that it is the adults who mess things up, and so causing the chaos in Romeo and Juliet’s world. The young are owed an apology. Although it is violent prejudice and not the environment that drives Romeo and Juliet, Higgins’s urgency echoes that of Greta Thunberg.
With a different global cast every week, it is fantastic to see diversity in Sydney Aldridge’s casting. The striking Evangeline Dickson plays Romeo. She is a natural in front of the camera. Sharing asides with a cheeky grin and infusing Romeo with boisterous physically, Dickson pushes the limits of a static Zoom angle. Even when falling to the ground her skill ensures that the camera follows. Sulin Hasso’s Juliet is demure, and her emotional journey from innocent young lover to banished daughter is convincing. When Michael Bertenshaw’s patriarchal Capulet pours scorn on his daughter, Hasso visibly shrinks into the corner of her screen. Adam Turns’s Red Bull drinking Mercutio cuts a cool, chameleon like figure dressed in multi-coloured tank top. Andy Mcleod’s Friar Lawrence is a hip, beardy cap-wearing school councillor, genuinely striving to help the young lovers. Azaan Symes as ensemble has only a few scenes but is memorable for creating different characters, and Gabriel Akamo as Prince Escalus impresses with his delivery of Shakespeare’s poetry.
Multiple cameras and skilful editing create the world. The Capulet masquerade ball perfectly captures those Zoom-office-gatherings, where everyone is encouraged to wear some ridiculous hat and let loose their inhibitions. A perfectly placed potted plant creates the famous balcony scene. Violence is a dominant force and Yarit Dor & Enric Ortuno’s fight choreography is excellent. Just as Shakespeare’s characters used weapons they had to hand, so too in this lockdown world it is kitchen knives, brooms, pans, and serving spoons.
With a running time close to three hours, this could be demanding of an audience, but the pace is fast. There are a few seconds of internet static and at one point the sound cuts briefly, but veteran actor Bertenshaw is quick to play the moment. Out of chaos, exciting new forms are found. Right now, these are urgently needed. The British theatre industry is facing its most serious crisis since the Puritans permanently shut theatres. Shakespeare would no doubt applaud Myles. With The Show Must Go Online, all the world’s a stage.
Available to watch here on Rob Myles YouTube channel