My second London Horror Festival show was to be a very different experience to Frankenstein: Unbolted. Once again drinks in hand, we climbed the stairs to the Etcetera Theatre above Camden’s The Oxford Arms.
On the stage, a cowled figure stood staff in hand. This was The Tempest’s Prince Prospero, the first of 18 characters from the works of William Shakespeare who would be joining us in a journey through Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell. Our guide through this mash-up was to be the spirit Ariel who kicks off the show with a spot of revenge on his old master.
The thing about the Bard’s plays is that they are chock full of bloody happenings and some of the greatest villains and most tragic heroines in English literature. What the four members of the all-female Brite Theatre Company do is pair up a selection of the best of them and let them do the talking with lines drawn from the plays. Thus we have for example, the suicides of Ophelia and Juliet riffing off each other, Titus Andronicus nursing his bloody stump as Falstaff crashes his feast, and a marvellously murderous Lady Macbeth paired with Lear’s villainous daughter Goneril. Naturally, there is also a good dose of the supernatural as the witches from Macbeth partner Shylock from the Merchant of Venice, and Oberon from A Midsummer Night’s Dream taunts the tragic King Richard II.
Given the intimate nature of the Etcetera Theatre, Shakespeare in Hell is a pretty intense experience. If you are a bit shy don’t sit in the front row, you may find yourself an unwitting partner in a conversation or even a guest at Titus Andronicus’s banquet. I have to admit, I’m not overly familiar with Shakespeare’s works, but the play left me with a desire to find out more about many of the characters. Tessa Hatts played Ariel while Melissa Barrett, Emily Carding (who also co-wrote the show with Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir) and Bryony Reynolds played everyone else.
An intense evening of murder, suicide, witchcraft, magic, treachery and betrayal, all done in just over an hour and all in the most beautifully eloquent language ever written, what more could a Hothouse Flower want?
Review by Simon Ball
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