Meet Shakespeare, but not the Shakespeare you know. Perhaps not even the Shakespeare you love.
not the Shakespeare you know
This one is stuck up in Scotland until he can write a play about the place for James I, and has a severe case of writer’s block. ‘Bard’s Block’ might be a better word for it in this case, but I ought to leave the coining to the wordsmith. Bard in the Yard consists of a single actor brainstorming, bellyaching, and generally blathering for about an hour, while in a yard. Or at least, while on stage at the Pleasance Courtyard, which is close enough.
At no point do you loose sight of the stage, or indeed the carefully constructed theatricality of it all. The script makes time for a selection of soliloquies which could easily have been indiscriminately pulled from a ‘Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits Album’. Their brilliance is refreshing in this context, but occasionally derailed by tonal whiplash. On the day I watched, Cleopatra’s final speech was poignantly and skilfully delivered before unceremoniously devolving into a comedy death scene. It was funny, but only because it was amusingly worse than we were expecting.
This is the principle on which most of the jokes operate, so it becomes easy to see coming.
Anyway, moving on from each incidental visit to the genuine writings of William Shakespeare, we return to the plot. The goal is to generate some fresh ideas with the help of the audience, in the hope of avoiding being beheaded. On the way, the script tracks a meandering route through questionably accurate anecdotes of Shakespeare’s life and times. The plague of 1606 is forced into parallel with Covid-19 with all the subtlety of a Renaissance innuendo. This allows for some reflections on loss, shared trauma and the glorious return of theatre which would be genuinely moving if they weren’t trying so hard to move you that they might as well do it with a forklift truck.
Anyway, moving on from each incidental visit to your heartstrings, we return to the plot. What was the plot again?
Bard in the Yard is Shakespeare for people who don’t like Shakespeare. ‘Shakespeare-lite’. It’s fun and accessible and keeps your attention in the same way a pantomime does, because you never know when you’re next going to be required to shout ‘Who’s There?’ (not quite Shakespeare) or ‘Awww’ (not quite sympathy). If it sounds like your thing, then brush up on your thees and thous, and don’t say ‘Macbeth’. Oops.