Last weekend feels like a very long time ago now, what with all the excitement that’s happened since then. (Come on, I’m a tennis fan – did you really think I wouldn’t find a way to mention Andy Murray?)
The last weekend in June was particularly significant for most of us here in the UK because it marked the arrival of – finally! – some sunshine. So, naturally, I decided to spend both days indoors, in first the dark, and then the cold (more on that in the next post). Given that there was a very good chance those two days were all the summer we were going to get, this could have proved a bad idea, but fortunately the rest of the week stayed warm and sunny too so it all worked out ok 🙂
On Saturday, I visited Canterbury with my mum and my sister for a day of theatre from the guys at Propeller. We discovered Propeller last year and were quick to book when we heard they were coming back this summer, confident that their take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night (a double bill performed as a matinee and evening performance on the same day) would be original, hilarious and possibly just a tad disturbing. And I’m pleased to say they delivered on all three counts.
The first thing you need to know about Propeller is that they’re an all-male theatre company. But they don’t let this stop them from performing plays with female characters; in fact they throw themselves with great gusto into those roles. And it works – by the end of the play you genuinely have to remind yourself that you’re not watching female actors. If anyone’s interested, there’s a great article on their website about what it’s like to play a woman.
Their interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays are modernised and make great use of music. It seems that everyone in the company sings and/or plays a musical instrument, and they incorporate these talents seamlessly into the performance, sometimes quite unexpectedly. (Last year’s rendition of Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)’ in the middle of The Winter’s Tale remains a highlight. And no, I’m not sure how that happened.) We also enjoyed a singalong session out in the lobby during the matinee interval, which is a Propeller tradition to raise money for charity.
One thing that struck me this time was how very dark and disturbing The Taming of the Shrew is; my recollection of the story came mainly from Ten Things I Hate About You, which, as it turns out, needed some serious fluff added to make it teen movie material. No such shying away from Propeller – they tackled head-on the slightly thorny issue of ‘it’s ok to abuse your wife if it’ll make her behave’. Hardly comedy material, and yet just a few minutes earlier we’d been rolling around with laughter. When darkness fell after the final scene, there was a very uncomfortable silence before the applause.
Twelfth Night (incidentally another one that’s been made into a teen movie; the faintly ridiculous She’s The Man) was far less discomfiting, although it still had dark elements, provided mainly by the creepy and ever-present figures in white masks who watched the action from shadowy corners of the stage. And it is after all a play about characters pining for people who don’t love them back, and a very cruel prank that lands poor Malvolio in the loony bin. But his scenes, as he pranced around the stage in his yellow stockings, grinning like an idiot, had everyone crying with laughter. (Maybe that means we’re all really mean? Bit worrying…) And at least in that play, everything turns out right in the end (well, close enough), so the audience response was more immediate – and perhaps a tad more enthusiastic – as a result.
All in all, I’m not sure what Shakespeare would have made of it, but I like to think he’d have enjoyed himself. For anyone with an interest in his plays (or even those without) I definitely recommend you give Propeller a try. It’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before. They’ll be taking on two new plays next year; we’ll see you there!