Mini-review – Crookback – Tim Welham at Etcetera Theater

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“Woe betide the reviewer who goes to three Shakespearean plays in a week, for she shall be tired by the last one, and peevish.”

Some weeks ago I received an invitation to see a one man version of Richard III – called “Crookback” – performed at a pub theater in Camden (the Etcetera, over the Oxford Arms). It’s a really great script, one of my favorite Shakespeares thanks to Propeller’s excellent version of two summers ago, and I thought, given the great success of Alan Cumming’s Macbeth, this could easily make the transition to a great one man show.

Little did I account for the collective powers of two previous nights of Shakespeare and the heat of a London summer as experienced in the poorly ventilated top floor of a pub.

Tim Welham’s performance was fantastically physical (he ended practically dripping in sweat) – while his hand was nearly always clamped to his body in a sort of bionic vise, with just one other arm and his voice (and a few hats) he conjured a series of other characters, from Margaret (her arm spiralling and grasping like a crone’s) to Buckingham (with his odd American accent). He managed to keep a generally clear delineation between all of the various mains (which almost entirely consisted of “people Richard kills”), and rollicked us along from one merry murder to the next, assisted by a chalkboard (where names were crossed off when appropriate) and a tape recorder.

To be honest, this approach was not what I was expecting. I thought this show would be far more focused on Richard and his thoughts and not be working so hard to drag the other characters in. And the plethora of other characters finally wound up overwhelming me at the point of the death of the boy prince. By the time the swirl of voices came out of the tape recorder (as if to imitate Richard’s fracturing conscience), we were on Bosworth field and I had, genuinely, lost the plot. I was too damned hot and really just ready to be out of the room and cooling down somewhere, but I recognized “my kingdom for a horse” was my freedom bell and soon, we were out.

While Welham was a deliciously convincing Richard, the script itself needed further reworking to reduce the noise and distraction and center more on the key characters. I refuse to entirely blame the heat for my impatience; more could be done to make this work in this format. However, for Shakespeare fans, Crookback is a good stab at the format, though perhaps better enjoyed in open air.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, July 11th, 2013. It continues through July 13th (tonight). Be sure to dress lightly i.e. sleeveless shirt and shorts, and take advantage of the water they offer as you go in.)

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