Writer: William Shakespeare
Shakespeare has been a lockdown saviour with his timeless understanding of human nature ever relevant to our times. Among the archive productions that venues have shared with the public, his work has appeared most often. The Barn Theatre in Cirencester has taken advantage of lockdown conditions to produce a greatest hits compilation, an online anthology selection of 35 monologues from across the Shakespeare canon.
This is a fascinating project, taking excerpts from dozens of plays to create mini movies lasting between two and five minutes, and using different filming techniques to place each Shakespearean segment in a new context. All single person monologues, the result is full of invention with characters appearing in a variety of unusual situations while directors and actors have fun with style and tone.
One of the most surprising is Dromio from The Comedy of Errors whose speech is recast as a cheesy talk show entitled My Boss Has Lost His Mind! Played by Tweedy the Clown and directed by Hal Chambers, the production values and editing create the garish studio feel really well, interspersing sounds from an off-camera presenter and a whooping audience. Although it would be impossible to create a whole production of The Comedy of Errors in this style, the shorter format gives the creators free reign to be funny and inventive.
Several of the shorts directly reference the pandemic using news headlines or video footage edited into the story such as a rather sinister Jacques (Stephen Omer) from As You Like It whose ‘All the World’s A Stage’ piece scrolls through clap for carers, images of Boris Johnson and nurses at work. Liam Horrigan’s very good Sir Thomas Moore takes a similar approach to discussing immigration, as though typing a social media rant while headlines about migrants and their contribution to the NHS flash across the screen.
Other approaches reference the limitations of lockdown directly including the reinterpretation of Puck (Tom Chudley-Evans) as a food delivery driver trying not to get run over while cycling at dusk. Or Jonathan Bourne’s amusing Petruchio inviting his mates over for an illegal barbeque but refuses to let them in. Others use phone calls and video platforms to deliver their speeches including Matt Ray Brown’s King John and Alicia Charles as Cleopatra delivering a parting message to someone on a COVID ward.
Others avoid the pandemic completely. Most successful are Tricia Adele Turner playing Hermione from The Winter’s Tale as an emotional Essex-based reality TV star forced to defend herself against cheating allegations by posting a Twitter video, Rosalind Ford’s Ariel from The Tempest as a blithe agony aunt getting on-screen text responses from her listeners and Aaron Sidwell’s schmoozing Mark Antony delivering his crowd-turning speech from Julius Caesar as a news broadcast with scrolling tickertape bar. Perhaps the Barn might consider a fuller production with Jasper William Cartwright as Romeo and Sarah Louise Hughes as Juliet, both excellent with the verse in entirely separate films.
As a collection, they are united by varying degrees of crackling interference that occasionally distorts the image, adding a consistency despite the range of ideas on offer. Steering clear of full soliloquies gives greater energy to the set, so audiences don’t spend too long with a single character or scenario and taking shorter snippets of Shakespeare means more female monologues can be included, giving greater overall balance to the selection.
There is some variety in the verse-speaking across the 35 monologues and while there is diversity in gender and age, there could be better BAME representation if a second tranche is released. Produced by Sitwell and Chambers, the creativity and breadth of this project is hugely impressive, proving that in the best or worst of times, Shakespeare always knows exactly how we feel.
Available here to stream