This one-woman show by playwright Lois Blanco involves Spanish actress Paula Blanco alternately playing William Shakespeare, a range of Shakespeare’s individual female characters and Queen Elizabeth I, exploring issues surrounding womanhood and femininity in Elizabethan England and within the Bard’s plays.
Lady Shakespeare is theatre at its most challenging.
The results are often very disturbing, with a complexity that is often extremely hard to follow. Programmes are for purchase only after the show, and without a clear knowledge of the plays, what to expect and an awareness of how it is structured, Lady Shakespeare may be one of the most confusing and frustrating performances you will see at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Distinction between characters, meanwhile, is often difficult to discern: although the commedia dell’arte masked and villainous Shakespeare is easily identified, as is Queen Elizabeth with her robes and allusions to monarchy, the distinction between the Shakespearean play characters is often less clear. The text, too, proved difficult and incredibly dense, making it a very hard piece to follow and grasp fully. Blanco disorientates and intimidates the audience, confronting them directly so as to make them uneasy, leading to a walk-out in the already small audience. Lady Shakespeare is theatre at its most challenging.
Thematically, Lady Shakespeare tackles some interesting aspects of gender identity, but it does so in a manner so convoluted and alienating that it is very hard to sit back and enjoy. Blanco is clearly a very talented actress, dealing with complex material in a way that displays a whole range of emotions and passions, truly getting to the crux of Elizabeth I, as well as Shakespearean characters such as Lady Macbeth and Isabella from Measure for Measure. However, this is not enough to guide the audience through what is going on. Emotionally, aspects of women’s life and suffering are made very clear. The text, however, with its endless allusions to historical events and plays, is simply too inaccessible to enjoy on first viewing. Its attempts to be clever make it impenetrable and unsettling.