3.5⭐ · Fringe Reviews 2017 · Reviews · Theatre Reviews

REVIEW: ‘Death by Shakespeare’ by Hurly Burly

3.5 Stars

If there’s one thing I always particular enjoy at the Fringe, it’s really well executed physical theatre. This company have the physical and aural aspects of their performance pinned down impressively. Opening with an harrowing soundscape of dissonant voices melding together, it immediately immerses the audience, creating an atmosphere of both discomfort and fascination.

It continues from there. The performers have a clear idea of how to use physicality to create and scene and character. The river created for Ophelia’s drowning sequences was one of their most impressive achievements; entrancing, disturbing, and lingering. The additional use of instruments and foley at the side of the stage also serve to enhance and embellish the vocal talents of the cast and make for an all-the-more authentically Shakespearean tone to proceedings.

Where the performance is let down is in terms of narrative. It would done better to either chose a more coherent defined linking device, or dispense with it entirely and disappear more into being Shakespeare anthology piece. Instead, it hovers somewhere in the middle, the point where I question the necessity of the Master of Ceremonies type character who, engaging as his actor is, somewhat detracts from the progression and flow of the vignettes.

Also, whilst having a large cast does occasionally work in its favour, in the small space, it did at times feel a little cluttered, and not in always in the claustrophobic, invasive sense that would have added to the atmosphere. I feel perhaps it could have achieved the same things and the same effects with a cast of half the size which might have made things a little smoother and little less overwhelming.

That said, there are some very memorable and praiseworthy performances in the show. The actors portraying Pyramus and Thisbe unashamedly and magnificently steal the show with their suitably silly section, and make for a delightful period of ridiculous relief in between the darker, more dramatic sequences that surround them. The two actresses portraying Ophelia provide the best of these performances, once again achieving that thing I’ve seen only a handful of times, of portraying a great depth of powerful emotion while barely speaking a word.

All in all this is an impressive piece that I would recommend, but that could do with a rethink of what it’s trying to achieve in terms of writing and how best to achieve that and do justice to its performers.

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