Shakespeare Tonight imagines what would happen if the Bard lived in the era of social media and TV chat shows. And indeed, the man himself is about to appear on one of these shows for the very first time. In a coup for producer Rebekah, one of the most famous men on the planet will be talking live in the studio to bubbly host Martina Fleur about his latest play, Hamlet, which has just opened to mixed reviews.
In a twist, though, Shakespeare won’t be the only guest on the show; he’ll be joined by arch rival Sir Francis Bacon, who – unlike William – is no stranger to the TV cameras. As the flamboyant, smirking Bacon makes himself at home on Martina’s sofa, and Shakespeare does his best to look cool and collected, the stage is set for a spectacular showdown between two great literary minds.
There’s lots to enjoy about Shakespeare Tonight; the script, by Paul Wilson and Tim Ferguson is witty, wordy and packed with so many references it almost warrants a return visit to try and catch them all. The only downside to this is that anyone not interested in Shakespeare may get a bit lost (but then again, it’s unlikely they’d go and see a play called Shakespeare Tonight, so moving on…).
The addition of modern culture into the mix is also good fun, tweets from the audience presented with cheeky and irreverent charm by Martina’s warm up and social media guy, the Duke, played by an extremely likeable Paul Obertelli. Francesca Mepham, in contrast, is decidedly unlikeable in her brief but memorable appearance as the sneering bully Rebekah, who’s happy to exploit both host and guests to bring in the viewers and secure a second series. And Kaara Benstead impresses in an even more fleeting yet highly significant role, bringing the show to an emotional end as Shakespeare’s estranged wife, Anne Hathaway.
The main bulk of the show is carried by Priscilla Fere as Martina, Garry Voss as Bacon and Peter Revel-Walsh as Shakespeare, and while there’s clearly no shortage of talent on stage, unfortunately their scenes also expose some flaws in the production. Issues with acoustics mean that much of the script gets lost as actors turn away from the audience, while a few fluffed lines lead to awkward silences that interrupt the flow of the conversation and leave everyone – on stage and off – feeling a bit tense and anxious.
Part of the problem is a lack of context; though I’m not usually an advocate of canned laughter, the studio setting could perhaps benefit from some sound effects to remind us where we are and how the spectators in the room are reacting. (It seems unlikely, for instance, that Jeremy Kyle’s audience would remain silent when one guest is threatening another with a dagger.) It is made clear from the outset that we’re supposed to be the studio audience – but aside from a few occasions when the Duke invites us to applaud, we’re given little indication of what’s expected of us or how involved we’re supposed to get.
This show clearly has a lot of potential, and will I’m sure deliver on its early promise as its week-long run at Theatro Technis continues, and later in the month when it travels to Edinburgh. With an experienced director in David Parry and an undoubtedly talented cast, the problems encountered last night are all very fixable, and shouldn’t detract from what is still an enjoyable evening.
Shakespeare Tonight is at Theatro Technis until 6th August and then Paradise in Augustines from 22nd-27th August.