Fringe roulette is part of what keeps us coming back year after year. As long as it's “theatre darling” we thespians can be relied upon to enjoy the good, the bad and perhaps especially the ugly as much as the ground-breaking and visionary during August-tide.
Quality story telling
That said, a banker of a show which does exactly what it says on the tin is never unappreciated, and in Shakespeare’s Fool, Tortive Theatre gives the audience an hour of quality story-telling from start to finish.
William ‘Cavaliero’ Kempe was once a gentleman player, juggling jester and London’s finest clown of the era, admired for his bawdy antics and witty turns of phrase. Rob Leetham takes us on Kempe’s journey from the unloved shining morning-face of his childhood to the furnace-sighing lover and through to his last scene of all as sad, washed-up has-been with charisma and sensitivity.
As the fickle finger of fame tickles and elevates Kempe only to finally drop him in a trough of stale ale and pig shit, we are treated to a tale told by an idiot – full of sound and fury – of heights reached, liaisons liaised and ambitions thwarted. And in the end, of course, it signifies nothing. Shakespeare is still a byword… and Kempe a footnote. It is this all too familiar tale of the shining star and the acolyte which has underpinned so much great literature and which leads to Kempe’s booze-sodden collapse. We are entertained, educated and engaged by Kempe and left feeling for him despite his self-defeating life choices: for who would bear the whips and scorns of going head to head with the greatest wordsmith of all time… (linguistically light-fingered though he may have been) in matters of the heart or theatre?
Do you need to be a Shakespeare fan to enjoy the show? Well, it will help you to get the jokes, but it really doesn’t matter if this is your starting point. The writing which gifts Kempe the space to breathe away from Shakespearean legacy will take any newbie by the hand and lead them confidently through the stinking streets of Southwark.
Shakespeare’s Fool is an economic, classy piece directed robustly by Ben Humphrey and brought to life by a multi-faceted Leetham who embraces the tears of the clown... all too patently aware that the fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.