Three Chairs and a Hat
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Setting several of Shakespeare’s famous women into modern-day settings, Few Are Angels invites its audience to revisit the Bard’s female characters in a new light. Directed by Wayne T. Brown, Cleopatra sits in a dark cell, wearing a striking red dress, and performs her monologue to a CCTV camera, Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream finds herself on a nondescript suburban path, and Much Ado about Nothing’s Beatrice lights up a cigarette and texts the first few lines of her dialogue.
Some texts transfer more easily into their modern settings than others. Mistress Page’s monologue lacks some of its original context, and Beatrice’s one-sided dialogue with the silent camera standing in for Benedict loses some of its meaning without Benedict’s lines. In contrast, the setting of Cressida’s monologue in the scenario of a woman on a dating site transfers easily and brings a new humour to the monologue as Cressida sits in front of her laptop in her tiger onesie with a box of chocolates and a glass of wine to hand. Similarly the Courtesan’s monologue from The Comedy of Errors fits perfectly into the setting of a neighbour in her marigolds and curlers chatting over the garden fence. Those monologues which find a foothold in the zeitgeist, whether through cultivating a garden as many of us did in lockdown, online dating, or chatting with neighbours from a distance, find the most success in their updating.
The highlight of these is certainly Julie Todd’s tear-jerking rendition of Fear no More the Heat o’ the Sun from Cymbeline. With new music composed by Nia Williams, this dirge accompanies the story of a recent widow, with a montage of scenes from her husband’s final moments as he lies in bed wearing an oxygen mask, and her gradually adjusting to an empty house. Touching on a grief that is familiar to many people in the past year, this scene stands out as a heartfelt example of how an old text can apply to new settings.
Just as the updating of Shakespeare’s text is mixed in its success, the quality of execution in the filming of the work is patchy. I found myself reaching for the remote control at the start of each monologue, having to adjust the volume between levels 5 and 20 to keep up with the unstable volume levels of the work. Though the monologues have clearly been directed and performed with filming in mind, the technical quality means that the work feel uncomfortable in its digital setting, leaving its audience with the feeling that they have not seen it to its full potential.
Bringing these characters, who would originally have been written to be played by young men, into the present day played by a large cast of women, Few Are Angels begins with a strong concept, though stumbles in its adaptation and digital execution.
Few Are Angels is available to stream on-demand until 29th August.