Death by Shakespeare

I found Hurly Burly’s ‘best of Shakespeare deaths’ a thoroughly educational experience: I learnt that Shakespearean ‘best of’ simply does not work. It is true that you would have to be living under a rock not to know who Romeo and Juliet are, yet without the presence of the full story there really was just no reason to care about them. We have no opportunity to engage with the performances and experience ‘their’ take on the many classic tragic figures that are on display. Ostensibly the production is set up as a kind-of trial, as characters compete for audience favour to bring them back from the dead for a night. Except they don’t. They simply perform their own original death scenes. Why should I save any of them? All die to serve a purpose. I was willing them to put forth a case, to divert from the original Shakespeare and let me know why their character deserved to live. Arbitrary is the word that springs to mind.

Aesthetically the show is rather strong. A mixture of mime, dance, song and live music conjure up some impressive images, particularly as Romeo and Juliet emerge from the underworld. This is very much a triumph of style over substance, however, leaving the whole affair with an empty air. All too often the crowd delivered lines as a group; it was hard enough for leads to develop their characters to begin with and this only flattened out the performance further. It was as if no consideration was given to anything beyond how something looked.

Unfortunately many performances fell into one of Shakespeare’s most devilish traps: the temptation to declaim every line as if summoning the spirit of John Gielgud. Somewhat ironically the most believable, naturalistic performance came from the deliberately over-acting Pyramus in the show’s comic interlude. His pompous, hammed-up intonation complimented the role perfectly and despite the flamboyance displayed an acute understanding of the text and character.

The concept strangles the production; the execution buries the body. It is an unfortunate combination that a fundamentally flawed premise is then mishandled. There’s some potential for salvation should a hard rethink occur but as things stand it is emptier than Macbeth’s loyalty.

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Performances

The Blurb

Revel in Shakespeare’s most macabre death scenes, from Macbeth to Mercutio. A blistering fusion of poetry, madness and unexpected beauty. But which tragic hero will you choose to save? Expect a different ending every day. Ingenious!

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