Udderbelly (on the Southbank)
I really don’t know whether I can count this as a Shakespeare production – it only lasted just over an hour to begin with, and I don’t think of that hour the more than half of it was *actually* Shakespeare’s dialogue. I’m not complaining though – it was very very funny…
The basic premise is this: A troupe rehearses Shakespeare, professionally. Then, every night, a member of the cast gets drunk (shit-faced, even) and then they perform the show. The drunkard gets to do whatever they want (including coming on randomly, telling very embarrassing stories, and continuing to drink) – as long as it isn’t dangerous. Which means at one point there was a duel between a sword and a blow-up crocodile.
The basic plot was just about distinguishable underneath the shenanigans and frankly insalubrious tales about Edinburgh. Two gentlemen (from Verona ahahahahaha) go off to Milan. The first one (Valentine) falls in love with Sylvia, the Duke of Milan’s daughter. The second one (Proteus, and our drunkard for the night) leaves behind his love, Julia, and then falls in love with Sylvia, the Duke of Milan’s daughter*. Julia also heads off to Milan, and pretends to be a bloke for a bit**. Then, thanks to various banishments and what not, they all end up in the wood, there’s the aforementioned sword fight, and eventually everyone ends up with who you’d expect. Oh and there’s a bit with a dog***, in this case played by a member of the audience.
It’s difficult to say much about the staging, or the style, since that was all rather overshadowed by the fact Proteus was off his face. I have two questions about the set – why Pikachu and who is in the middle?
No real comment either on the costuming, which was cod- (and cod-piece) Tudor. In terms of the acting, well, much of that was either entirely replaced with trying to respond to the drunken madman, or busily being deconstructed by him. Massive props are due to Briony Rawle, playing Julia, who not only seemed to remain in character in the face of extreme provocation, but actually shone as an intelligent young woman in (somewhat spiky) love. The actor playing Valentine****, who shared the most stage time with Proteus, did his best but was fighting a losing battle in the face of an enemy who kept on calling him John.
The star of the show – last night at least – was drunken Proteus, played by David Ellis. I have no idea if he hogs the limelight so dramatically when sober, but this was definitely his night – from the Jurassic Park references, to the meta-comments on the acting and the “rapey” nature of the plot*****, to the revelation that he’d been sack from work (at the Southbank) that afternoon – while drinking – he made everything uproariously, hilariously, about him.
It probably wasn’t Shakespeare. But it was bloody funny.
* Yes, the same Silvia. Keep up at the back.
** Because that kind of thing was inexplicably popular. Actually it’s completely explicable – corsets are the very devil.
*** Thanks Dame Judi.
**** I’m sorry, I can’t find his name!