Bard in the Yard: The Scottish Play

18/08/21

Pleasance Courtyard, Rear Courtyard, Edinburgh

What is the Edinburgh Fringe without a little Shakespeare, I hear you ask? Good question.

At B & B we’re always on the lookout for fresh interpretations of the Bard’s classics and here’s an interesting offering, staged in the well-ventilated confines of the Pleasance’s rear courtyard. The Scottish Play is a lively monologue, in which William Shakespeare (Caroline Mathison) strides onstage and tells us all about his current predicament. He’s been sent to Scotland by James the First to write ‘a Scottish play’ and, if he doesn’t deliver the goods, he could well end up with his head on a spike.

What better incentive could a playwright have?

So far, Will only has one dodgy soliloquy in his notebook – something about a dagger that also includes the word ‘erection’ – so he enlists three members of the audience to help him with the piece. They must make notes of anything he says that seems useable and, hopefully, by the end, he’ll have something that might just work.

Mathison is a confident and energetic performer, who manages to zip between silly and emotive with ease, seizing on the similarities between the pandemic and the plague (which affected so much of Shakespeare’s life) and making much play of it. The bit where she drenches her hands in sanitiser while singing ‘Greensleeves’ is a particular delight and I also enjoy the spirited renderings of several of the better-known soliloquies This is a piece that celebrates Shakespeare’s work and isn’t afraid to take risks with the material

But, what initially promises to be an immersive experience doesn’t really deliver on that score. Those three enlistees don’t actually have very much to do and, when one of them announces that his name is Macbeth, it isn’t picked up on and developed. Overall, the piece never seems entirely sure about what it wants to be – part knockabout comedy, part anguished recollection (as Will recalls his brother Edmund who died of the plague), it veers from one approach to the other and never finds a consistent tone.

By the end, Mathison is cavorting merrily around the stage, accompanied by ‘We Will Rock You’ handclaps from the audience. It’s all very jolly and lots of fun, but, with a sharper script, it could easily be more than that. Great venue though – and what might just be the catchiest title on this year’s fringe.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney

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