The wonderful Shook Up Shakespeare has burst onto our collective Shakespearian consciousness once again to cajole us into party mood at the wake-for- Shakes we’ve all been waiting for (probably).
Midsummer Madness is fun and funny, excitable and exciting, pure joy and immensely enjoyable. Above all there is true reverence in the show’s irreverence, an hour long tribute act to our Willie’s wise words of wisdom, wonder and wit.
The show’s creator is Helen Watkinson who could demonstrably take Bardism as her Mastermind specialist subject. She teases out the humour, the nuance, the subtlety and the characterisation of the plays and poems melding them into a delightful mash-up of elongated set-piece gags and more sombre expressions of love and devotion.
Watkinson has put together an energetic and effervescent troupe of jeans-’n’-tee-shirt clad ladies who resemble a kind of cross between “Five Go To Illyria” and, with their colour coding, a female version of “Reservoir Dogs”, brutally securing the building before taking the audience hostage. (I trust you noticed the delicate way I put that). Yes, Shook Up Shakespeare’s most endearing feature is audience participation so if you haven’t come to party then it’s best to take cover under your seat. Trademark party bags and hats get us in the mood, copious amounts of noisily-wrapped sweets are passed around (I hit pay-dirt with a Chupa Chup) and important jobs are allocated to smooth the action: Bell Master; Score Keeper; Time Blower; and, of course, the Fools.
Fools are, of course, a Shakespearean staple and these ones are dragged on stage to mimic silly actions by cast members. Oh, how we laughed at them whilst secretly praying that we weren’t next – though I do seriously covet the flashing-light pointy clown hat that blind-date selectee Max was asked to wear.
After a passable impersonation of a cannon Ms Yellow as Beatrice (Genevieve Berkeley-Steele) gets the show off to an explosive start with a whistle-stop tour around all 37 plays in rap form: eat your heart out, Example, this lady’s coming for you and, Gangsta Rap style, she don’t take no prisoners.
The Faerie Queen/Ms Red takes on the Mistress of Ceremonies duties, handling audience liaison, acting as gameshow host and generally trying to keep the peace between the warring factions behind her. Melissa Vaughan is excellent in this role managing to tread that thin line between encouraging and complimenting the audience whilst expertly flitting back into her onstage role. Ad libs are her forte.
A strong performance from Elizabeth Menabney as Adriana/Ms Green showed up her ability to mix up the comic with the passionate and in Phoebe Rhodes we see an effectively strait-laced Olivia who as Ms Orange displays all the shenanigans of the naughty minx.
Straight-gal in all the mayhem is the superbly nonchalant Madelyn Smedley as Portia/Ms Purple. She lurched from wide-eyed TOWIE Girl to deadpan deliverer of downbeat one-liners in true Philomena Cunk style. In fact her Cunkishness was such that I wondered whether this was all an elaborate spin-off from “Cunk on Shakespeare”. That, though, would be to denigrate the expert devising and directing of this sublime divertissement by the irrepressible Watkinson who is able to tap into our 400 year love affair with Shakespeare and send us all home happily quoting the quotable and determined to call out the self-regarding Shrew in our lives, or that haughty cousin Malvolio, or the poisonous Aunt Goneril, or Falstaff, that lovably roguish exponent of extreme exaggeration who lurks somewhere in all our entourages. Invite them all to the party at the Rosemary Branch Theatre: “It’s pure, unabashed, unrelenting entertainment” – as Shakespeare undoubtedly would have said.
Review by Peter Yates
Join Shook Up Shakespeare for an evening of mad, magical and musical midsummer madness in honour of good old Will, our national treasure: playwright, poet… party planner! How now shall this be compass’d? Canst thou bring me to the party? We promise to transport you back in time to Bankside, the only place to party in 16th century London!
Rosemary Branch Theatre, Islington N1 3DT:
Tuesday 14th June – Saturday 18th June at 7.30pm
Sunday 19th June at 6pm