By Danielle Farrow
Charlie Dupré imagines Shakespeare as a playground rapper, and has the wit to carry this off in a rap-battle between Shakey P and Marlowe, the reigning school champ. This is an ingenious way of bringing Elizabethan poet-playwrights into a modern world, referencing their great grasp of language and rhythm, giving some flavour of their historical relationship and keeping / making them interesting. In this manner, and in others, Dupré caters to those into rap and hip-hop and to fans of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
For Dupré makes mention of resonances between those early wordsmiths and today’s rappers, and educates – lightly and entertainingly – about hip-hop rhythms as well as iambic pentameter. Shakespeare’s verse is not always in the five double-beat rhythm of iambic pentameter – Puck and a fellow fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Witches in Macbeth have a different, four-beat rhythm to their speeches, such as the famous “If we shadows have offended” and “Double, double toil and trouble”. Dupré explains that a four-beat rhythm is favoured by rappers, so it fits well that the witches feature in his version of Macbeth, and his Puck frames the performance and is returned to within it. It is only Puck who keeps Shakespeare’s lines in full, but phrases and concepts are skillfully woven into the stories. These, once the playground battle is told, are modern tellings that look, with humour and occasional pathos, at Richard III (visiting a psychologist), Othello (aptly told in the style of Eminem’s obsessive Stan), Marlowe’s Faustus, Macbeth as seen from the point of view of the weird sisters and a voice-hounded Hamlet. Partway through, there is also a break from the tragedies when Dupré invites the audience to shout out Shakespeare-sounding words with which he then improvises.
Dupré is accompanied by Oliver Willems and Oktawia Petronella on cello and violin, enhancing his rhymes, with Petronella also providing high vocals for the Othello tale. The jealousy refrain in this, a sharp contrast to the Dido sections in Eminem’s Stan, is not quite as successful as the rest of the pieces, being a little unclear and not quite as well worded, though striking in sound, and the sectional nature of the different stories does not build to a performance climax, while the wit and wordplay of the initial rap battle – though still evident throughout – is sometimes not quite as impressive as at first. However, the overall performance is one well worth watching.
Charlie Dupré presents, in his Stories of Shakey P, a highly entertaining approach to Shakespeare’s works and ways of relating to them, along with some very fine wordcraft of his own. The audience definitely appreciated the laughs, the information, the presentation and the moments of tragic connection.