LAST EMBRACE

Wed 9th October 2013

reviews

Saoirse McStay

at 16:42 on 10th Oct 2013

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There is always the potential for innovative ideas to be great if well executed, and I have always been a great lover of well-placed Shakespeare adaptations, but Last Embrace, although conceptually brilliant, fell slightly short of the mark. The musical is set in 1970’s Ireland, in a time of public unrest between Protestants and Catholics, though this was not made explicitly clear, and is based on Romeo and Juliet, with actors being given modernised, Irish versions of the Shakespearean names (Romeo becomes Ronan, Paris becomes Peter and so on). As with all musical productions, I feel that it is of the utmost importance that the singing and music are of a very high standard for the originality of the concept to be deemed successful, especially when adapting something as timeless as Shakespeare. The minimalistic staging and lighting of Last Embrace gave the actors on stage the opportunity to really stand out, as the piece was fairly raw and rustic, however, the actual singing wasn’t unbelievable.

The play begins with a slightly tweaked version of the famous opening lines, sung brilliantly in an Irish folk style by Zoe Devenish, who throughout the play displayed her musical talent by playing various instruments; a piano, violin, guitar and a flute. Playing the chorus as a single narrator, her character unfortunately came across as slightly smug, a fault I would attribute to the script or perhaps direction rather than her acting, and often the Irish setting of political unrest was slightly forced into the script. At the climax of the fight scene between the Capulet and Montague men towards the beginning (or Protestant and Catholic families respectively), the narrator steps in and proclaims that it would usually be at this point that a prince or someone else of grandeur would step in and break things up, had the play been set in Italy. However, as the piece was set in Ireland, we are told the men are left to brawl like animals, in a manner that made me feel somewhat guilty, which was a little bizarre.

There were definitely redeeming features of the play that made up for its shortcomings. David Shute, who played the part of Oliver (Tybalt) had the most fantastic singing voice and really was a pleasure to witness on stage; amongst a cast that seemed, I’m afraid to say, a little amateurish, he really seemed to stand out as the actor with the most experience. Similarly, Joseph Stevenson (Benvolio, or Ben) and Oliver de Rohan (Mercutio) were the main contributors of comedy and energy in the piece which was otherwise slightly lacking. However, some of the songs they sang in unison with Ronan appeared slightly chaotic and under-rehearsed, perhaps because the stage was not quite large enough to accommodate the entire the cast, who were frozen in various positions on the fringes of the stage when they were not performing.

Finally, I feel that the actresses playing Julia (Sally Sydney Geake), the nurse, or grandmother in this piece (Maura Judges) and the Catholic family mother (Ruth Mace) all slightly underplayed their characters, with Geake portraying Julia as almost pathetic and incredibly immature, which was an enormous shame. Whilst the acting itself was, on the whole, fairly good, it was the male actors of the cast who really commandeered the show and kept it entertaining and energetic.

Overall, not a complete disappointment of a musical, but there was definitely room for improvement. The music was original and well-integrated, the lyrics reflected the plot and feelings of the characters perfectly, and the actors themselves were all obviously very competent and talented, but the script just did not allow room for each of the characters to really develop, which made the audience feel rather detached from what was happening on stage. I feel with a little more rehearsal time and tweaking of certain parts of the script, and perhaps even a full chorus to accompany those singing on stage, the piece could have been very successful, but I nonetheless would not deem it a complete catastrophe as there were moments that were truly delightful to watch.

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