'All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players' Act II, Scene VII, As You Like It
Set in the warm and intimate space of the Pegg Theatre, ‘Shakespeare! The Panto’ begins its tale in a Midsummer Night’s Dream-like fashion – except this is no play within a play, but a panto within a panto. The scene opens with two modern-day schoolgirls working on a project about the bard: Billy, who is disinterested by the whole affair, and Alex, an avid Shakespearian scholar. In an attempt to open her classmate’s eyes to the magic of Shakespeare, Alex settles on the only appropriate medium – pantomime, obviously. It is from here on in that the action and the audience descend into the joyous chaos of the pantomime itself.
The plot follows the life of Shakespeare and his sidekick-come-soulmate Bottom as he turns away from the histories, tragedies and comedies, and resorts to the new-fangled concept of pantomime, in order to revive a career beginning to grow stale. However, a dark figure lurks in the shadows…Sebastian, the Master of Revels and Shakespeare’s arch-nemesis, and he will stop at nothing to foil Shakespeare’s success.
With musical numbers, slightly problematic dames, audience participation, and puns so awful they’re comic genius, ‘Shakespeare!’ has all the ingredients for a rib-tickling performance. There is a real scope of comedy; the humour appeals to everyone, but there are some excellent niche references thrown in for those thespians in the audience. Featuring cameo performances from both a cast of Shakespeare’s characters – gym-lad Caliban, ‘Merchant of Menace’ Shylock, and a Tinder-bound Macbeth – to modern day faces, such as Doctor Who, and a malfunctioning Trump with his puppet-master Putin.
The standout performances include the hilarious, nefarious, but ultimately utterly lovable duo of The Master of Revels and Ariel, played by Megan Good and Luke Silverman respectively. They bicker, chase each other round the stage, perform some astounding magic tricks (Dynamo, eat your heart out), and headline the best musical performance of the show: a Shakespearian rendition of the teen-angst-ridden ‘Stacey’s Mom’. However, the star of the show is undeniably, and fittingly, the bard himself, played as a convincing diva by the fantastic Sophy Taylor, in all her sharpied-on-goatee glory.
With a minimal set, but an exceptionally witty and ridiculous script written by Flora Snelson alongside efforts of the production team, and the equally witty breath of life the actors give the characters, this is good old-fashioned fun, which only gets better as it goes on. Whether you’re a casual acquaintance of the bard or a hardcore fan, ‘Shakespeare the Panto!’ guarantees a night of much-needed light-heartedness, with a whip-smart mix of modern-day memes and classic Shakespearian innuendo.