Lady Macbeth, Ophelia and Juliet get a moment to themselves in the intelligently amusing Shakespeare’s Mad Women – A Love Letter to Shakespearean F?!kboys, at TheatreN16
“If the world wants mad women, they can have them. This place is enough to drive anyone stark, raving insane”
Lady Macbeth, Ophelia and Juliet walk into a bar…it sounds like the set-up for a great joke. Swap out the bar for an amorphous corner of the afterlife and you get the set-up for the delightfully titled debut production from Lady Garden Theatre, Shakespeare’s Mad Women – A Love Letter to Shakespearean F?!kboys, taking a short run at TheatreN16 after playing the Brighton Fringe last month.
This is the bit of the afterlife where Shakespeare’s female characters end up, specifically the ones who take their lives because of a man, and heaven knows there’s a lot of them. Juliet is the latest to join the group and when she arrives, she is naturally thoroughly discombobulated: instead of finding her Romeo with arms open wide, there’s two strange women drinking tea.
Written and directed by Abigail Smith, Shakespeare’s Mad Women is such a brilliantly simple concept, you can’t wonder why it’s not been done before. One might suggest a reason being because of Shakespeare’s unchallenged position at the head of the canon, or maybe the conniptions that seize hold of commentators at the mere mention of gender-blind casting. But even mighty oaks benefit from the occasional thorough shakedown.
So here, Holly Cuffley’s wearied Lady M and Gabrielle Pausey’s Ophelia guide Gala Wesson’s Juliet through what they’ve gleaned about their situation. And as painful flashbacks intermittently pull them back into snatches of verse from their past, evocative movement hints at the dreamlike state of being caught in such a limbo. And all three convince with their movingly different stages of acceptance.
It’s a fascinating exploration of characters that we know well and of course, wryly amusing as they start to examine the lives they lead and the f?!kery they put up with from the men they loved. As the piece gets increasingly metatextual, it also gets denser and you end up wishing you could spend at least another hour with these women, exploring more of what usually only gets used as subtext in traditional Shakespearean productions. Get thee to TheatreN16.