Review: The Shakespeare Scrapbook

Anunita Chandrasekar 5 May 2017

‘The Shakespeare Scrapbook’ can at least be commended for the aptness of its title; the show was a collection of ‘scraps’ loosely based on a Shakespearean theme that ranged from absurdly comic sketches to weighty monologues. The range of material certainly enabled the actors to showcase both the comedic and somber aspects of their talent but was occasionally rather jarring.

The show opened with Alex Franklin as Shakespeare himself, musing over the more salacious and ultimately bizarre versions of his plays, including Gnomeo and Juliet. This set up a sketch that envisioned an alternate canon of gnome themed works by the Bard and the humour of the scene – a combination of zany one-liners and well delivered, but comically neutral, lines – set the tone for the rest of the evening. The self-referential element of a lot of the comedy was particularly appreciated, as veiled (and not-so-veiled) digs at various Cambridge institutions such as Cindie’s, Arcsoc and its unconventional themes, and even thesps; one even claimed, with amusing self-depreciation, that they were “just here for a Camdram credit”.

Further highlights were the First Dates sketch involving a hipsterised Hamlet who had moved to Shoreditch, a spoof commercial for “Out Damn Spot Detergent” and Francesca Bertoletti as a broody, monosyllabic Caliban who finds an outlet for his angst in song. Bertoletti’s performance, which she accompanied herself on the piano, exemplified the talent of the actors, who could command a stage solo and even playfully strike up a little banter with the audience. The decontextualized extracts from Shakespeare’s plays that featured were the most polished and poised segments of the show, with Seth Kruger as Gloucester and Grainne Dromgoole as Lucretia delivering particularly captivating extended monologues.

On occasion, scenes were too ambitious and not quite polished enough to unify the disparately comic elements. A sketch that recast part of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ onto a stage with a paddling pool, water guns and a mute dancer gyrating energetically with ribbons around the stage springs to mind. Another weaker sketch follows Leo Reich as Shakespeare during the composition process of Sonnet 18, tracing the poet’s train of thought as he ponders how to woo his amorata in an increasingly banal manner, getting caught up in self-consciousness about, amongst other things, his arms. At one point, he declaims “I make up words… I literally make up words”; a quote that felt like it could be applicable to a lot of the show.

However, this is not necessarily a criticism – the actors manage to incorporate the show’s unfinished nature, hinted towards in its description on Camdram, into it and the extemporized feel of certain scenes gave them an even greater comedic punch. Though far from flawless, I suspect ‘The Shakespeare Scrapbook’ I saw may differ significantly from the ones on future evenings and, based on the moments of gold on show, it is well worth visiting again.