BARD HEADS at the Everyman Studio, Cheltenham

rich-skull-hi-res

I like clever, not always, you understand, because sometimes clever can be too clever for its own good. But when someone comes up with an idea and you wonder why nobody has done it before and you say, “that’s clever”, then they should be congratulated.

Finding the Will, with their Bard Heads strand, have come up with a clever idea for their raison d’être – they take a Shakespeare character who, in a monologue one-act play, reveals their back-story and tells what happened to him or her in the future, years after the play has finished, as it were. So, in past shows, we discovered what happened to Miranda after she left her island home in The Tempest and the story of Friar Laurence from Romeo & Juliet after he has been banished from Verona.

Finding the Will consists of Jules Hobbs, who takes the female characters, and Richard Curnow who, you guessed it, plays the men. The two current plays are The Third Witch from the Left and Call me Oz.

In Third Witch we meet Meg, a 421-year-old witch who is a member of a present-day weekly therapy group. We, from her numerous confessions to the group, learn that at the age of sixteen she was doing work experience in Scotland, in an open place with thunder and lightning. Meg wasn’t one of the three credited witches in Macbeth but was only there in the background in a supporting role. Nevertheless, she feels a certain responsibility and guilt for the events that unfolded following her cronies’ prophecies. We learn lots of hitherto, unknown facts, tit-bits even – for example, who would have guessed that Lady M’s first name was Morag?

It seems that poor Meg had drawn the short straw by being sent to Scotland and would have preferred to go elsewhere for her work experience. She could have been placed with the Wizard of Oswestry or have become the sorcerer’s apprentice . . . oh yes, and there were lots more where they came from.

Osric is a typical eye-catching Shakespearean cameo character who has little to do or say but is significant in moving the story on or providing a moment’s light relief. In Hamlet he is the one who is sent by Claudius to invite the prince to participate in the duel with Laertes and is responsible for the weapons.

Osric, or Oz as he now prefers to be called, was fawning and sycophantic, a foppish boot-licking courtier from whom Hamlet takes the piss. In Call Me Oz, forty-five years after Hamlet’s death, Osric comes out of the closet (or should that be, out from behind the arras) and we find out that he has been gay all the time and madly in love with Laertes. And, as the play progresses we also discover, much to Oz’s surprise, that Marcellus, he of the fog-shrouded Elsinore battlements, is working as the local window cleaner and can throw some light on the mystery of the ghost of Hamlet’s father. All this gossip, it’s better than EastEnders – you learn a lot from Bard Heads.

Finding the Will claims that previous knowledge of Shakespeare in general, and the nominated play in particular, is not necessary. Hmmm. Although their monologues may be brilliantly written and beautifully acted I can’t see that they would mean anything or hold the attention if you didn’t know who and what they were talking about. That said, it is probably unlikely that anyone who was not a Shakespeare fan, if not aficionado, would pay to see the shows in the first place, so the issue is a rather academic one.

I like Jules Hobbs and Richard Curnow and their Bard Heads, I like them very much. I liked their previous productions and I liked this one. This was only a one-night-stand but they are often around and are well worth seeing – but it might be an idea to brush up your Shakespeare before you go, just so you fully understand what they are talking about. Very clever and I really enjoyed it – a hit, a very palpable hit.     ★★★★☆       Michael Hasted      13th November 2016