Let England Shake

Let England Shake is a dark and funny performance full of good ideas and performed by a great all-female ensemble. However, the show needs some more thought to make the separate stories sit together as a coherent whole.

The performance of Puck is fantastic. He slides and prowls around the edge of our consciousness before roughly forcing himself into the moment onstage.

Seats Back Theatre Company’s show is a collection of short stories, containing historical, mythical and supernatural creatures transposed into the modern day and performed with satire. At the same time, it makes a clumsy attempt to illustrate some moral points about social media, lad culture and feminism. The concept for the show is solid, but unfortunately some of the stories are handled poorly, and the separate stories feel disconnected as there is little flow between them.

The stories making up this play are about the following: an actress suffering from online trolls; Boudicca defending her bloodline; Puck performing a questionable stand-up comedy set; a cursed phone that slowly traps its owner inside it; a collection of holiday reps that are called by the mythical Sirens.

The segment about the troll headquarters - where all the online trolls gather to produce the most visceral tweets - is hilarious, and makes you wish it was true, if only so you could walk in and arrest them all. For me, the highlight of the show is the excellent and aggressive monologue performed by Puck, in which he defends the use of rape jokes. It is sinisterly truthful, tearing at A Midsummer Night’s Dream, showing the darker side of Shakespeare’s play to the audience.

The performance of Puck is fantastic. He slides and prowls around the edge of our consciousness before roughly forcing himself into the moment onstage. Perhaps the actor could afford to be more physical, in order to more clearly indicate that Puck is other-worldly. The actors playing the holiday reps also give surreptitiously smart performances.

However, not all the stories are as successful. Boudicca’s story simply seems to be that she likes murdering some people. She also makes woman-out-of-time comments about what she sees on TV, which is fine for a few short laughs, but doesn’t add to the show. I feel that something more interesting could have been made about a warrior queen, rather than have her stabbing unpleasant boyfriends. 

I spent most of the cursed phone scene trying to work out which myth it was based on, because the performances and the story itself are not particularly engaging. There is a solitary attempt to connect the stories up, when Puck gives Ms Vienna the cursed phone. This moment left me lost and unsure how to reconcile the two stories into one linked section. The scene with the sirens is the best-acted scene of the play, but feels aimless.

The show creates a general feeling of disconnection. Each of the scenes manage to produce a few laughs, but apart from Puck’s scene on rape, none of the stories add anything new or interesting to the debates around feminism or social media. The supernatural, mythological or historical characters do not provide a fresh look or raise any new questions.

Reviews by M Johnson

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The Blurb

Let England Shake is an anthology play whose separate stories insert the historical, the mythical and the supernatural into the lives of modern women, holding a dark but comical mirror up to the issues they face in the 21st century.