Following on from their previous quad centenary show, Midsummer Madness, Shook Up Shakespeare return for two nights as part of the Camden Fringe programme with Holiday Humour. The theme in this show, appropriately enough for the Soho venue, is gender-bending women from the Bard’s canon. It has a cabaret feel to it, which works well in the intimate surroundings of the Phoenix Artist Club.
It features Jessica & Portia from The Merchant of Venice (Lil Davis & Josie Paine), Rosalind from As You Like It (Eboni Dixon), Imogen from Cymbeline (Maisie Greenwood), Julia from The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Nell Hardy) and Viola from Twelfth Night (Joanna Lucas). Heading up this band of “roaring girls” is Captain Moll (Genevieve Berkeley-Steele) of Thomas Middleton & Thomas Dekker’s The Roaring Girl (a comedy based on the life of cross-dressing thief Mary Frith).
The show plays up to its gender-bending theme by incorporating a variety of related popular songs (in parody form), such as David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel & Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side. Unlike Midsummer Madness, Holiday Humour delves more into the stories of these fictional women, and tries to tackle the issues they face in their respective plays. As such there is less of a focus on Shakespeare’s verse. This is a bit of a shame, as the proliferation of quotes (shaken up, of course) is where they have proven to be so strong previously.
The highlight, for me, comes towards the end: the girls are challenged to prove they can act as men by reciting a line a male character speaks in each of Shakespeare’s 37 plays. This quick-fire quoting is entertainingly done, and made visual by way of actions. For a Shakespeare fan, this is where the show is most enjoyable – though it is an entertaining evening nonetheless.
Whilst the venue is atmospheric, it’s not the most ideal to be able to see everything that happens in the performance area. However, the cast do their best to ensure that everyone feels involved by occasionally wandering in & around the front tables, as well as performing at different heights where they can.
Nell Hardy impresses with her sense of comedy, as well as occasional violin accompaniments during some of the various musical performances. Eboni Dixon has a superlative voice that fills the small room several times over! A surprisingly touching moment comes courtesy of Joanna Lucas in her Viola guise, as the girls re-create her scene with Orsino where she opaquely discusses her unrequited love.
However, the standout performance comes from Genevieve Berkeley-Steele as charismatic, energetic & slightly camp Moll. She is a joy to watch, and makes for a very entertaining compère.
My verdict? A short & sharp bit of fun – it could be a bit heavier on the Shakespeare, but a good laugh nevertheless.
Holiday Humour ran at the Phoenix Artist Club on 22nd & 23rd August 2016. Shook Up Shakespeare will be taking up artistic residency at the Rabbit Hole in Hampstead.