'Unpretentiously entertaining' ★★★★ - Shakespeare! The Panto @ Pegg Theatre



Danny Shaw reviews a performance replete with terrible puns, 16th century drag queens and bizarrely hilarious musical interludes.

Midway into March, a time commonly regarded as the height of pantomime season, ‘Shakespeare!’ pokes fun at the life and works of the bard himself. The evening provides an unpretentiously entertaining performance, delivered to the sold-out Pegg Theatre.

Two school children, one a Stormzy-loving crep-checker, the other a stuck-up goody-two-shoes, are tasked with creating a presentation on the life of William Shakespeare. The unlikely duo then recall the moment when the famous Willy hits a spot of trouble.

'bursting with references to the ASS library and viral videos, this pantomime certainly doesn’t disappoint'

The University of Bristol Panto Society are transplanted into the 16th century, where they become the hottest ticket in town. With a beard courtesy of a sharpie, the cross-dressing, egotistical Shakespeare, who fuses Blackadder and Perry of ‘Kevin and Perry’, is tasked with writing a pantomime that betters that of his rivals. Luckily enough, Bill has a Baldrick who materialises in the form of Bottom: his down-to-earth, dry assistant/ life partner/ soulmate, whose name, drawn from 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream', foreshadows his eventual transfiguration into something that resembles a piñata.

Unfortunately, the meddling Sebastian and his magical accomplice Ariel complicate Shakespeare’s endeavors: they employ Shylock, a 'merchant of menace’ who dresses like a brooding, mysterious teen, writes love poetry and smokes rollies, to steal his script and disrupt the play’s performance. From here the convoluted, nonsensical parodies of Shakespeare’s life and work emerge.

'convoluted, nonsensical parodies of Shakespeare’s life and work'

Laced with innuendos, puns and jokes that were so bad they were funny, ‘Shakespeare!’ proved once and for all that ‘if Anne Hath-a-will, Anne Hath-a-way’. A pencil of all things allowed for an over-emphasised soliloquy: ‘2B or not 2B that is the question’, with other re-worked quotations appearing throughout the production.

Audience participation was frequent, with an ‘Oh no he is!’ here, an ‘Oh no he isn’t! there. However, the best incorporation of the audience involved the glamourous, effervescent and exceedingly camp Maria. Tortured by her unrequited love for the other way inclined Mr Shakespeare, Maria oozed the charisma and sassiness of Ru Paul. Flirting with audience members, forcing innuendos and doing really quite strange things with her tongue, Maria sent one poor front row sitter into shades of red he never knew existed.

'puns and jokes that were so bad they were funny'

Maria was also involved in the best musical interlude of the show: a subverted rendition of ‘500 miles’ in which she spars with Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway. But would a pantomime be complete with only one colorful figure? I think not. Shakespeare’s mum, who recalls images of the ugly stepsister from Shrek, is a Mrs Robinson figure who catches the eye of a younger Sebastian. This naturally invites an alternative rendition of ‘Stacey’s Mum’, which is enthusiastically lapped up by the audience.

Bursting with references to the ASS library and viral videos, this pantomime certainly doesn’t disappoint. With a Donald Trump cameo stifled swiftly by a Russian man informing us that the puppet is not performing as expected, an appearance from Dr Who, police that enforce the respect of historical context and an Instagram obsessed Juliette, ‘Shakespeare!’ is a must-see performance brimming with humour and fun.

(Featured image: Unsplash / Ben White)

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