The undoing of Some Kind of Theatre’s take on Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy takes place before cast or audience even enter the typically dingy Free Fringe room in which the play is staged. The problem lies not in the acting, the costumes, or even the charmingly homemade set, but in the skull-and-crossbones artwork and exclamatory addition of “with Pirates!” to the title. Clever and technically true though this marketing may be, implicit in the premise lies the suggestion of a comic take on a decidedly uncomic play. This, however, is not the case.
The talented cast do so much right, and deserve far better than their stiflingly intimate attic room – at one point it was uncertain whether we were hearing dramatic sound effects or just a clunky old air-con coming to life. There are gamely-grown beards and ponytails, and Jack Sparrow-esque costumes and cutlasses aplenty; there is fight choreography to die for, and the inclusion of a catchy sea shanty (fittingly commandeered from a certain title in the Assassin’s Creed series) that will have you humming for the rest of the day. Above all, the cast – a mix of ages, genders and UK accents – and their shared enthusiasm for and belief in their source material is second to none. Heather Milne is particularly impressive as Mark Anthony – her voice could carry up to the gods of any theatre. Likewise, Assistant Director Nico Marrone has fun with one of the play’s minor roles as a last-minute stand-in.
The issue lies in their fear to deviate from the original play. While setting and characters are more than adequately pirate-themed, even a handful of pirate-related jokes and puns peppered throughout would have done wonders for the performance. No “friends, pirates, countrymen”? No Julius Sea-sar? Could the female-played Mark Anthony not have been Mary Anthony?
If it were not for the elaborate costumes and the large puppet of a parrot briefly atop one actor’s arm, it would be all too easy to accuse the company of taking themselves too seriously. As it stands, it feels as though they simply never got around to writing any jokes – jokes that could with ease have elevated this to a four- or five-star production. Shakespeare aficionados, do not let this put you off seeing a heartfelt (and free) portrayal of one of the Bard’s greatest plays by a troupe of thespians aspiring to the Globe; to the casual Fringe-goer expecting a few laughs, stick to Shit-faced Shakespeare.
Julius Caesar (with Pirates!)
Black Market – Room 7 (Venue 399 – Free Fringe)
Until 18th August
Photo credit: Perry Jonsson Art