By Danielle Farrow
Shakespeare’s Avengers Assembleth – and how it assembleth! For anyone who knows that, in authentic Shakespearean, Avengers – being plural – assemble rather than assembleth, there is a question to be asked:
Do you need your Shakespeare pure or are you happy to let a youthful company play about with his creations, throw in modern references, and – in their own words – ‘cobble together’ a completely historically inaccurate piece of irreverent fun?
Drake’s Drummers Theatre Company, with cheeky self-awareness and reference, have a great many laughs presenting a tale of Shakespeare’s characters – some interrupted before their deaths, and at least one resurrected – on missions to stop dastardly plans. The heroes, which include Brutus, are sent for by the Bard on the soon-to-be-crowned Queen Elizabeth’s orders to create a play that will make sure a visit by the Pope does not stop England from converting to Protestantism (yes, there’s a number of those historical ‘inaccuracies’ right there). The villains, including Ophelia (the Catholics think her madness can be put to use), are sent on a mistaken mission to stop the Protestants from killing the Pope.
With a bare stage, basic lighting, some decent budget-costuming, a dagger, a bottle of poison, Yorick the skull and plenty of gags, this company provide light entertainment with sparkles of wit, swashes of silliness and enough Shakespearean understanding to satisfy this bardic fan. There is a forced running gag to do with Christ’s name, but it facilitates a lot of far stronger comedy and so can be easily accepted. This is indicative of the whole – some strained and facile ideas, but overall an entertaining romp with characters from Shakespeare’s works – interpreted in surface, stereotypical fashion – clashing with style and humour.
There are swipes at the Inquisition – it is the High Inquisitor we see, rather than the Pope – aspects of management (favouring the ‘yes’ person over the one that actually knows what they’re doing) and propaganda, with Shakespeare’s new, stop-the-Catholics play, being ridiculous as well as farcically played, but the focus is definitely on enjoyment and on playing about with these characters in a ridiculous situation. Knowing the characters and their plays adds to the comedy, but there is plenty in the production to amuse anyone unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s works.
Acting is decent, with only a few words swallowed or lost due to the occasional overly thick accent or when players continue through the audience’s laughter, rather than riding the wave of it. But there were certainly a great many laughs, and that is what this show is about.
Shakespeare’s Avengers Assembleth is a fine Fringe piece, bearing some resemblance to that Fringe institution that is Shakespeare for Breakfast, and is an amusing bit of light entertainment, created with imagination and a strong sense of fun. A good show!