FRINGE 2017: THEATRE – Ophelia’s Shadow – The Bakehouse – 2.5K

Ophelia’s Shadow, is one of several abridged, adapted and modernised versions of Shakespeare’s plays that are on offer this Fringe. This particular show focuses on the character of Ophelia in Hamlet, with lashings of 90s garage rock, plenty of black clothes, and grungy dancing. It aims to use the character of Ophelia to explore the continued societal demands on, and attempted patriarchical control of, women in today’s society, with mixed levels of success. If you are unfamiliar with the original text, both the plot and any meaning within the adaptation may be equally difficult to discern.

While promoted as a feminist rock-musical, the majority of the show is still made up of the original Shakespearean text. When songs do feature, they are most often as background accompaniment, rather than actual segments of the play being performed by the characters therein. A notable exception to this is when Hamlet (Luke Middlebrook) performs his “to be or not to be” speech, bouncing around the stage like a bad Peter Garrett impersonator. Even setting aside the odd choice to include this speech in a show purporting to focus on Ophelia, the mangling of this famous and emotionally impactful soliloquy into an irreverent and often gratingly monotone “song”, which gives no credence to the rhythms inherent in the original poetry, is primarily just painful.

There are elements of the show which demonstrate promise. Miriam Slater is grounded and capable as Ophelia, with a good grasp of the meaning and feeling behind the lines being spoken, a pleasant singing voice (the contrasting folk ballad near the end of the show being the musical highlight) and excellent physicality. As Ophelia descends into madness via the medium of interpretive dance, we get to see an emotional connectivity sadly lacking in a lot of the other parts of the show.

As the lead singer of the band, Frances McNair has a strong voice, appropriate to the style of music, seething with a good blend of anger and power. However, when she sings into the microphone, it is held so close to her mouth that the words become jumbled and it’s well-nigh impossible to discern which lines of the play have been adapted. The segments where she sings unaided show that her natural voice easily carries throughout the venue and the amplification is unnecessary; some attention could actually be given to reducing her volume in the group pieces as it does have a tendency to overpower everyone else – even those singing the melodies. Unfortunately these group harmonies also suffer from continual discordance and more attention could be given to rehearsing these pieces.

While this production is unlikely to have wide appeal, and is certainly not the vehicle for anyone unfamiliar with Shakespeare to cut their teeth in that area, it is not without merit. New explorations of Shakespeare’s plays always provide the opportunity to extract something new from the text and, if nothing else, this piece is likely to get audiences discussing what they’ve just witnessed.

Kryztoff rating: 2.5K


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