It is generally accepted that the best facet of Shakespeare’s work and what has made him stand the test of time is his verse. One would therefore have to question the logic behind staging a re-telling of one of his most famous works of verse that is a re-telling in the literal sense. ‘Explain the plot with numerous obtuse and utterly incomprehensible diversions’ appeared to be the alternative brief of this production; if it was, it was a success - but this is the only aspect in which it could be described thus.
The madness took place on a deep stage dotted with a drum and two microphones. We open on a song punctuated by off-putting thumping drums and wails from the two performers David Fereira Bastos and Sara Ribeiro. They then grab their microphones and clumsily move them around from unlinked to unlinked scene. On house right a man stood at a desk, iPad and laptop in hand and provided the ‘accompaniment’ of clicking, buzzing, echoed shouting, and ominous electronica; to call it music is ambitious.
So much of this production is disconcerting: the crass and unnecessarily sexualised performances; the reeling from verse into howls that are a parody of powerful acting; and ridiculous affected modern lines and references. The frankly excruciating elements of attempted audience interaction (where Ribeiro claims to channel the undead spirit of Jim Morrison… me neither) or silly fourth wall breaks stand totally at odds with the fantasy world created in the esoteric elements of dance or physical theatre. The constant bobbing ‘drunken uncle at a wedding’ dancing from the electronic desk is a distraction throughout.
Spectacularly, this apparent attempt to cut away all that makes Shakespeare great in favour of just explaining his story has actually made said story incomprehensible. You have to ask what on earth the point was. There are a few elements that worked, such as the well-controlled lighting and the moments when the sound appears by chance to be in time with what is happening on stage, but these moments are scant few and the show so clustered and cluttered that they fly by, the only facet of this interminable hour and a half that does.
The death scene is probably one of the most climactic endings in theatre. Inexplicably this company elected not to finish there, but instead extend a performance that needed no extending with a semi off-the-cuff (in the sense that it was mumbled and nonsensical) storytelling section that fell flat because no audience member felt comfortable or engaged enough to reciprocate. ‘Great art’ should never be a euphemism for unwatchable theatre and if it is, count me out of both.