By Danielle Farrow
The Power Behind the Crone is well acted, written and directed. Alison Skilbeck and director Tim Hardy present seven of Shakespeare’s older female characters in the framework of a University of the Third Age lecture – a very amusing one. Lecturer Artemis Turret had arranged for her friend from Oxford days, Bunti Smart – now Dame Bunti Smart due to her fine acting career – to play the various roles Artemis is to talk about. Unfortunately, the Dame is caught up with filming a popular television series, so Artemis performs her chosen characters herself, setting out to show that Shakespeare has written great parts for older women, refuting people such as Helen Mirren who say otherwise.
Skilbeck performs with great clarity, dignity, humour, deft accent work and times of deeper emotional connection, creating her Shakespearean older women with subtle shifts, apt use of Artemis’ outerwear for unobtrusive costume enhancements and real vocal skill. Her Paulina is an excellent example of Artemis’ “turning on a sixpence” phrase, the Countess of Rousillon has great warmth, Volumnia is truly forged in steel, and the second Mrs Quickly speech finds fine poignancy. The script is also witty, with some wonderful descriptive phrases and touches that build the lecturer’s world.
Artemis’ – and Skilbeck’s – love for the characters and Shakespeare’s writing shines through, and there are comments – which do not overwhelm with academia – on technical aspects that guide actors and highlight the Bard’s skill as a playwright as well as an observer of people. For the first Mrs Quickly speech, the description of what the role delivers in all its glory was not delivered in all the glory described, and music when we have been told there will be none, along with a Shakespearean quote to encourage use of imagination, winds up feeling slightly cheesy and as if the audience’s imagination isn’t being trusted (which could have been avoided if the music had been set up as helped by a class volunteer). Nor does Turret succeed in showing all her characters to be great roles. However, Skilbeck does show us their merit as good ones, with Paulina potentially great.
The Power Behind the Crone is an entertaining look at some major and some often overlooked characters of Shakespeare, and audience members left with praise for the show and the actor ringing out. Even more could be achieved by this performer who has such passion for her subject: Skilbeck’s technique and control is impressive, but reins seem to be held rather tightly. There could be some guts and ‘mess’ to many of these women, nothing that would take from the very real humanity Skilbeck brings, but a more raw side to that humanity, which is also part of Shakespeare’s – and a number of these crones’ – very real power.
The Power Behind the Crone: 12:00 (till 13:00) @ Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17) until 28/08/17
Please note – 3 stars = a good, strong show: if the production is of a type that appeals to you, you will enjoy this
(4 stars = outstanding; 5 stars = an amazing show you’re likely to remember for the rest of your life!)