That Theatre’s new play Shakespeare Unplugged proves that the bard is still very much alive today. Directed by the experienced Shakespearian director Barry McKenna, the play is a new way of understanding the playwright and poet’s universal appeal.
Shakespeare Unplugged is the latest production from That Theatre, which under the leadership of Ian Burns has for many years been bringing top quality English-language theatre to audiences in Copenhagen with two plays a year (one in the spring, one in the autumn). Their choices tend to have small casts – recent examples include The Zoo Story, Oleanna and The Collector – and this play is no exception, featuring just three actors … unless you include the audience, which this time around are very much part of the play.
Penned by the actors and director, Shakespeare Unplugged takes place in a pub during a football match between England and Denmark. Two old English friends, Derek and Jon (Burns and Andre Jeffers, a regular of the Crazy Christmas Cabaret), meet up to watch the game. The game is about to begin when suddenly there is a power cut. Desperately searching for the game on an old radio, they stumble across a broadcast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and good old Shakespeare begins to work his magic.
Realising they will have to make their own entertainment, Derek and Jon decide to help an unwilling Karl (Adam Brix), the barman, by teaching him how to woo his Rosalind in Shakespearean style. This leads to the performance of several love scenes from Shakespeare’s best-loved plays including Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and even Macbeth.
According to director Barry McKenna, the play isn’t just a compilation of Shakespearean scenes. “The red thread is a love story of our time at a venue we can all relate to – a bar in Copenhagen,” explains McKenna. “It shows we can fall back on our age-old ability to entertain ourselves when we lose electric light, TV and PC. When our safety nets are taken from us, we are forced to communicate and make impressions on our fellow man.”
The audience plays a major role in the play. Not only are they on the same stage as the actors – a phenomenon not unknown in Shakespeare’s day, after all, all the world’s a stage – they are also encouraged to take an active role in the plot. “The audience is a crucial element and functions as a character in any Shakespeare play in my humble opinion,” says McKenna. “It needs an audience to play to, to spar with, and to bounce off of to create a relationship with.”
Shakespearean quotations such as “To be, or not to be” and “O Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo?” are some of literature’s most celebrated lines. However, many expressions that we use every day originated in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare is credited by the Oxford Dictionary with introducing nearly 3,000 words into the English language. “We have a segment where we quote all the idioms of Shakespeare still in use today like: lie low; playing fast and loose; don’t stand on ceremony; dead as a doornail,” enthuses McKenna.
As the play takes place in a fictional bar, you might as well just stay for a drink afterwards. “We want the experience to be entertaining foremost, but in a lighter way educational,” says McKenna. “In light of that we will encourage the audience to send us texts before the show and will address their questions if they stay for an after-drink.”
Not that Shakespeare would approve. As the master himself once said: “I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking. I could well wish courtesy would invent some other custom of entertainment.”
Krudttønden, Serridslevvej 2, Cph Ø; starts Feb 22, ends March 24;
Performances at 20:00 on Mon-Fri, 17:00 on Sat;