Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits doesn’t aspire to much, but it can’t be said to disappoint.
Pierson is adept at changes in character, moving swiftly from exaggerated villainy in Richard III to A Midsummer Night’s Dream pastoral. None of these will go down as definitive interpretations, but his Machiavellian slant on Antony’s funeral address at least is thought-provoking. If there’s an edge of caricature to some of these performances, that may be precisely what’s needed to keep the unconnected extracts engaging. Projected text and images support the orations: first-person explanations by ‘Shakespeare’ are grating and occasionally misleading (“My plays include songs to help change the mood”), but the glosses are useful.
Yates, meanwhile, is a superb soprano, and her rendition of Somewhere (There’s a Place For Us) from West Side Story is a highlight of the performance. Chamberlain’s electric piano permits an organ-like sound which helps set the tone, as do the ensemble’s costumes. Lest an excerpt from Greensleeves should seem incongruous, we are told that it was well known by Shakespeare’s time and is mentioned in one of his plays.
The concept isn’t particularly profound. Purists would argue that the passages’ real meaning is specific to the context of their plays. It’s an interesting enough show though, probably a reasonable introduction to Shakespeare for children, and for others a pleasant memory-refresher. Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits doesn’t aspire to much, but it can’t be said to disappoint.