A rose by any other name may smell as sweet… but would a Shakespeare by any other name have the same legacy?
This is just one of the questions asked in Dauntless City Theatre’s production of Shakespeare By Any Other Name. The play, penned by Bangalore-based theatremaker Vijay Padaki, investigates the impact and legacy of the Bard’s work, from his most popular plays to the role colonialism played in maintaining his status as one of the world’s most celebrated playwrights, even 400 years after his death. But this is no straightforward lecture.
Part history lesson, part joyful romp through Shakespeare’s works, the sixty-minute play in the heart of St. James’ Park attempts to return the playwright to the people: or at least, provide general audiences with context about the Bard’s work. Under the direction of joey o’dael, the production’s two performers, Tallan Alexander and Chi-Chi Onuah, lead the audience through a brief and interactive history of Shakespeare and his legacy. Audience members are invited to participate in readings, share their favourite classical plays, and guess the origins of a number of popular words and phrases you may not have realized that the Bard originated (“bedazzled,” anyone?).
Alexander and Onuah do a good job keeping the audience engaged — Onuah in particular has a wonderful handle on the excerpts of classical text — in the distraction-filled environment of St. James’ Park. The play is quite informal, with a ticketless pay-what-you-can model: audience members have full permission to come and go as they please. (Unsurprisingly, many curious locals wandered through the performance I attended — after all, it’s not every day that you see two costumed people reciting Shakespeare in the middle of a park.) It’s all by design: the placement of the production allows anyone who happens to be in the area to join in the fun.
There is minimal design: the production uses St. James Park’s timber pavilion as its backdrop, with no set and only a handful of props. Costume designer Stevie Baker has created garb that implies the Elizabethan era without weighing the actors down in heavy brocades and stiff collars — a clever move in the summer heat and humidity.
My main concern is that at times I found it difficult to hear the performers, particularly the audience participants who took part in the readings. Working in an open-air theatre, particularly one placed between the bustle of King and Adelaide, requires a certain amount of projection that wasn’t entirely consistent in this production.
Another slight concern: about halfway through the show, the audience is asked to stand and move from the cement centre of the park to a grassy area on the other side of the pavilion, a transition that left several audience members trailing behind. The move didn’t feel entirely necessary, and I noticed that a few patrons struggled in the shift from a bench to sitting on the grass.
These caveats noted, the production is light, accessible, and appropriate for audiences of all ages. Whether you’re new to Shakespeare’s or a fan, Shakespeare By Any Other Name is worth the brief jaunt to St. James’ Park — you may even learn something new!
Shakespeare By Any Other Name plays at St. James’ Park every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through August 27. For more information, click here.
Intermission reviews are independent and unrelated to Intermission’s partnered content. Learn more about Intermission’s partnership model here.