Sometimes you have to check out the Fringe regulars, especially when tagged with “sizzling” by the Scottish Express and “well worth getting out of bed for” by the Indy. So I bought a ticket for this hardy annual – and the show was indeed packed, sold out in a venue on the large side of medium.
But it’s pretty terrible. Sloppy, self-indulgent, witless sub-sixth-form larking by five players old enough to know better. We live, after all, in the post-Reduced-Shakespeare age. This stuff can be smarter, by a factor of about fifty times. Here, the loose plot has a girl shipwrecked on an island populated by Shakespeare characters who switch randomly around, mainly as an excuse to chuck out prithees and sirrahs and extract bad jokes from overfamiliar lines from the Dictionary Of Hackneyed Quotations. When Prince Hal strolls on with a union jack towel saying “once more unto the beach dear friends”, and the audience obediently guffaws, you know where you are. You’re in middle-aged 1950s philistinism, a world scared of poetry and feeling, demanding nothing more than validation of its fear of the archaic, the heroic, the complex. Smirk at a Yorick skull! Put Shakespeare in his place!
There are three middling good jokes – Hamlet taking a selfie, “hashtag thatisthequestion”, and a four-wall-breaking moment when a Romeo looks at the ceiling with “But soft, what light from yonder lighting rig breaks?”, followed by “things can only get meta”. And it’s a nice idea that ever since Plomley you can always find a copy of the Complete Works on a desert island. The rap at the end has at least been worked on, and updated to put Richard III in the car-park. But sizzling? Worth getting up for? What were they thinking?