In this play of two parts Robert Crighton’s production has mixed results. The first half is a lecture by Professor Ashborn, an academic looking at the theories surrounding authorship. What begins as an informative evening descends into Ashborn’s personal chaos, an ex-wife, a tweed and leather patch illuminati and his late mother’s terrifying china dolls. It is a simple set up and Crighton as Ashborn has a rich voice (reminding me of Bertie Carvel) and it is a confident performance that just failed to engage, perhaps because of its short running time (though this doesn’t exclude a lot of filler in the run up to the dramatic finale) the tone of the piece changes so suddenly that the audience isn’t sure what this is. The Shakespeare element that Crighton has publicised this show on seems mostly irrelevant and a convenient way of getting an audience in.
There are some highlights, such as his section on Mary Sidney and the recurring gag that Two Gentlemen of Verona is dreadful but any warmth Crighton gained from the audience in the first half soon disappears in the second half of this production.
At best the inclusion of the Shakespeare: The Ever Living! Is misguided, at worst damn right indulgent. The best way to describe it is as a section on a Open Mic comedy night for new acts but even a new act would realise this part, mostly about Crighton and his love of 80s cartoons but with a Shakespeare séance thrown in to make it relevant to the theme, just doesn’t work and would stop it immediately. Bizarrely it is 50 minutes of Crighton getting no laughs and doing an act that is a poor combination of Eddie Izzard and Robin Ince.
There is a section on Thundercats but the audience is either too old or too young to get it so Crighton spends what feels like 10-15 minutes just explaining what Thundercats is. An audience expecting jokes about Shakespeare and the reaction to 400th anniversary of his death would be extremely disappointed to come to a theatre and get a poor and unfunny 50-minute set. Ironically Crighton talks about the many revivals of old plays, films and television shows stating that audiences do not want new things. Who can blame an audience for finding comfort in the old and familiar if this is the new material we are supposed to enjoy. The irony is that the Shakespeare sections are repetitive and dull. It is very telling, after the confident first half, that Crighton barely makes eye contact with us in the second.
Undead Bard is on at N16 Theatre (The Bedford, Balham) until 13 October
NB: To add insult to injury Crighton directs us to his website and talks about his production where Shakespeare is accused of being a paedophile (like a 17th century Jimmy Savile) and the reaction to it. it sounds much better production then what I saw.