By Danielle Farrow
Hurly Burly’s Death by Shakespeare presents death scenes from the Shakespeare’s plays with great movement, accompanying music, and well-synchronised choral speaking and singing. There is a lot of well-focused energy involved and the young cast work excellently together as an ensemble, with a script created by the inter-weaving of lines from many plays.
Characters seen at death include Romeo, those he killed, Juliet, Ophelia and Lady Macbeth. There is a very moving section, drawing strongly on Macbeth and Richard III, on the murders of children and then, by way of contrast, the audience is highly entertained by the Pyramus and Thisbe deaths from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Pyramus, ably supported in comedy by his ‘fair’ Thisbe, shines with his acting, using his vocal range and committing to extremes (very necessary for both comedy and tragedy) while still creating the impression that this is a real person here before us. Such is rare in many shows, especially Shakespeare ones, so much credit goes to this young actor.
The musical accompaniment – apt for Shakespeare’s time, with drum used extensively – enhanced the choral work as lines were delivered clearly by many together. This can rob words of their emotional nuance, but often succeeded in creating atmosphere and the two Ophelias, when speaking in tandem, retained individuality. Sometimes, though, the text was flattened or overwhelmed, so that periods of musical silence were welcome.
The concept of this production includes the audience choosing which character should rise from the dead at the end, and the narration of this was not well handled, being somewhat unclear until the end and the place where the cobbling together of lines from many different plays did not succeed. There were certain language anomalies, unlikely to be widely noted, which would not affect the enjoyment of the presentation had the lines not, for the most part, been delivered in that ‘Shakespearean voice’ which is all sound and no connection. This, along with the occasional reliance on yelling to be threatening and hideously overly dramatic delivery to be mad / bad, harms both meaning and audience’s attention. (On this occasion, the audience vote, went the way of many such public votes, clearly being carried by those connected to one performer.)
Direction is to be admired, creating a strong ensemble that delivers impressive physical and choral work, and keeps the production flowing with energy and appropriate pace throughout, with but a few instruments, basic lighting and pleasing costuming, consistent in its bodices / doublets and split skirts of the kendo kind over short trousers for all.
Death by Shakespeare is a fine example of a group focusing on details of presentation, utilising players’ strengths, and working excellently with each other.