Spoken word and rap artist Charlie Dupre comes on stage to the strains of cello and violin, an accompaniment that is perhaps a little at odds with his casual hip-hop style and delivery and which at times distracts from the words rather than adds to their meaning. Dupre sets out to convince us that Shakespeare was a rapper - hardly the most original of propositions but one that still has plenty of mileage in the entertainment-stakes, particularly when it’s done to such a high level as this.
Dupre is a very watchable and likeable performer: clear-voiced, articulate, striking the right balance between exposition and delivering the material and with an energetic and charismatic style.
Before embarking on a series of rap retellings of classic Shakespeare plays, Dupre sets the scene for us. In ‘Shakey P’ the schoolboy Bard conducts a rap battle with his playground rival, Kit Marlowe. Vying to outdo his nemesis, Shakey reads all he can and then begins to write, before successfully destroying Marlowe: ‘I know this might well anger thee but mate, your tether’s tied/’Cos the G-spot of humanity you’ll blatantly never find’. Dupre then points out that Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter rhythm is rap-like. There are other similar, perhaps more enlightening moments, as when Dupre suggests that the Shakespearean tragic hero appears in lots of hip-hop music. This pre-empts ‘Othello’ in the style of Eminem’s ‘Stan’. Before this the tragic hero Richard III is imagined in therapy, a format that cleverly allows us inside the plotting - ‘Operation King phase two point one’ - and motivations of the king. That Dupre manages to condense all of the complicated plot machinations while also creating a strong sense of character is really impressive and not tripping over any of the words that are fired from his mouth. At times, one is reminded of a petulant David Platt of ‘Coronation Street’; and the format is also reminiscent of the excellent ‘Psychobitches’, a sketch show starring Rebecca Front as therapist to various historical figures. Nevertheless, it works very well.
Other raps include ‘Faustus’, ‘Hamlet’, and my favourite, ‘Macbeth’, which has Dupre retelling the story from the witches’ point of view. This is where Dupre really lets rip as he creates unique personalities for each witch: a flirty, tall Scot who sounds a lot like Gary Tank Commander; a short, fat hag; and a cross-eyed crone. Flitting between each character, he tells the tale with consummate skill. There are some lovely, surprising rhymes and images here too: ‘Duff had gone a bit skewiff when he was still inside her/This meant he couldn’t make his exit via her vagina’.
There are a couple of bum notes though. An interactive game relies on the audience to call out Shakespearean words, a participant writes these up on the board at the back of the stage, and Dupre improvises a rap around them. The audience is a little unresponsive but Dupre’s ignorance of ‘distaff’ is surprising. That said, the rap itself is pretty well done, and he recovers his energy for the rest of the show quickly. I would have liked a bit more variety in the plays - it would be interesting to see how Dupre approaches a comedy, for instance. But Dupre is a very watchable and likeable performer: clear-voiced, articulate, striking the right balance between exposition and delivering the material and with an energetic and charismatic style. If this show reaches out to those previously intimidated by the big Bard himself - all the better.