~ Bard From The Barn Review: Season 1 ~

” We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

William Shakepeare, The Tempest

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In this strange time when the theatre industry is taking the biggest kicking since – probably the recession of 08/09, a lot of the mainstream and smaller companies have kindly streamed their performances for their audiences at home.

Whilst I was busy binge watching Sound of Music and Rent live, over and over, Bard From The Barn crept up and gently tapped me on the shoulder, asking me to please give their new online series a watch: ‘Shakespeare Characters in Lockdown.’

I saw the word ‘Shakespeare’ and I’ll admit – my heart sunk a little. Shakespeare is great, but sometimes I’m just reminded of school and coursework and essays and you get my point. Now, before anyone starts, I DO like Shakespeare… in small doses. I have certain moments from select plays which I adore. And luckily, this is exactly what ‘Shakespeare in Lockdown’ offers! Each episode is maximum three minutes long, consisting of a monologue performed by one actor.  It’s dragged right into the twenty-first century so if you’re expecting the stuffy costumes and the brandishing of ‘who’s sword is the biggest’ then this isn’t it.

It has all the modern elements from twitter to facetime, to job insecurity and the pandemic. That’s right. This project, which is the brainchild of Aaron Sidwell and Hal Chambers, explores the characters of Shakespeare stuck in lockdown right now.

Each episode is uniquely crafted around our present day lockdown situation and how it can impact on our social, economical and mental structures. We see Sidwell as Marc Anthony as a newscaster, chatting to us from his house in Rome. And Dominic Brewer as Hamlet, gazing outside as he reflects on the state of the world during lockdown. Hamlet is a play which explores the question of sanity anyway. Lockdown is affecting so many people’s mental health. I remember quipping to my sister only a few months ago, “I’m slowly losing my mind!” So when I watched Hamlet lament that “With my disposition that this goodly frame, the Earth seems to me a sterile promontory,”  I thought, same Hamlet, same.

Sophie May Wake takes on the mantle as Lady Macbeth, in the guise of a wife who sits upon a heap of overdue bills. She rails at her husband for not being ambitious enough to fight for a job in the midst of this pandemic. At a time when so many people are being laid off and staff are being furloughed left, right and centre – this is bound to hit a few notes. Hard. I’ve always thought Lady Macbeth had a tough reputation. She’s constantly being characterised as an ‘evil bitch’ haranguing her ‘poor widdle hubby.’ But watching it in this setting, we’re drawn to her in a relatable way. She’s right. Stop winging MacBeth! Get off your backside and be proactive!

Sophie May Wake as Lady Macbeth

 It’s creative, innovative and all round genius! It’s marketed as Shakespeare meets black mirror and I already know I’d LOVE to see this as a live show in its’ entirety. When the theatre festivals tentatively reopen, I want this to headline please! Come one Aaron and Hal, make it happen! Oh and if we can please see Adam Sopp headlining his own Iago spin off, that’ll be the icing on the cake. His episode was himself, sitting in the dark, plotting against Othello after being passed over for promotion. It opens with him ending a facetime call with Rodrigo.

As a playwright myself I already know to steer clear of lockdown, pandemic and doomsday plays, for at least five years. Why on earth would people pay to see something they’ve already lived through? They want escaping, not reminding.

This project however – is the exception. It’s literally an amalgamation of classic and contemporary and it’s Shakespeare we can relate to. If you’re a teacher or parent, tired of shoving Shakespeare down your kids throats, then show them this. Their jaws will be on the floor by the end of the first three episodes.

I’ll let you guys watch it and see for yourselves. Season 2 just dropped so I’m off!

 Enjoy!

You can watch the entire series here:

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