October 26, 2006, by Peter Kirwan

Rough Magyck (Forkbeard Fantasy) @ The Cube

The first Cube production, by a company who specialise in multimedia presentation- and I hardly know where to begin.

Entering the foyer of the theatre, the audience were all given lunchboxes with a range of ‘souvenirs’ inside (including fairy liquid and a complimentary peanut). Our evening was to be conducted by Hamlet Holidays and Arden Forest Dream Tours, who were doing tours of the theatre.

The backstory centred on the current renovation of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, telling us (on a huge video screen in the foyer) how builders had broken into a network of tunnels beneath the theatre that dated back to Tudor times. Within those tunnels, something had been disturbed which was now spewing mystical energy up into the auditorium.

Introduced over the screen to two documentary presenters, the Brittonioni Brothers, who were making a film on Shakespeare’s supernatural, we were then escorted into the venue, to see workmen digging away in the auditorium and awakening a mysterious hoofed figure beneath the theatre. Then we discovered that our tour operators were actually ‘Ron’ and ‘Tania’, two fairies, and the head of RSC Marketing, ‘Paul Spero’, was a magician who had abjured his magic- any of this sounding familiar?!

Finally taken into the space, the Brittonioni Brothers, assisted by Puck, showed us the start of their film and drew us into a strange world of fact, anecdote, video presentation that merged into real life and general befuddlement. As the film-makers were gradually overwhelmed by the supernatural, so the fairies became more prominent, eventually sucking the filmmakers into their world and pulling the audience out of their seats and onto the main stage of the RSC, facing back into the Cube. A huge screen was lowered onto which was projected the god Pan, awakened from a long sleep under the theatre and excited to know what humankind had made of the arts since his rest- before leading us as his spear bearers to a grand victory over the commercial arts, resulting in us standing on the main stage while the curtains opened, bright lights shone and thunderous applause greeted us- along with the Brittonioni Brothers wearing asses heads.

Confused? Me too. It’s not the kind of play that can be described very well. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was the most obviously referenced play, and ‘The Tempest’ also drew several mentions, but by and large this was Forkbeard’s own insane creation.

I enjoyed it. It forced the audience into its own little world and didn’t give us a chance to stand around making intelligent comments- this was theatre that grabbed you by the scruff of the neck and made you participate. The technical cleverness of the piece, though, became somewhat wearing. I’m not a huge fan of Forkbeard’s style, and find that some of their tricks (such as an actor moving behind a screen and then appearing as video footage on the screen) are overused until they become dull. The sheer amount of stuff happening and profusion of ideas left it feeling like an A-level theatre studies piece, and I couldn’t even begin to guess at what the production was “about”. Although funny, the play also didn’t invite an emotional response, providing stimulus for the head rather than anything else.

Not all theatre has to move though, and as a piece of sensory stimulus this production was utterly overwhelming. Keeping the audience moving and interested (though the film sections ran on somewhat) was impressive, as were the amount of jokes and points of interest. Factually, there was much to be learned about Shakespeare’s writing from the documentary footage, and in terms of performance this was like no other production in the Festival.

I think I’ll always remember that feeling of being stood on the stage and having the curtain arise to blinding light and thundering applause. If nothing else, this production really made you feel a part of something, even if only because the audience was so small that we felt we were being privileged to gain access to these areas. I would have liked something more coherent and unified, particularly as the first couple of sections threw up such interesting ideas about what lay beneath the theatre, which were mostly forgotten in the documentary presentation, but taken in its own right, this production was a valiant hour and a half of cutting edge theatre that completely enraptured the audience- and will doubtless not be forgotten!

Posted in Theatre review