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Review: Shakespeare's Guide To Women
Written by Richard Stamp   
Published on Monday, 12 July 2010

The Bard's in a spot of bother.  He thought he'd penned a winner with his draft of Twelfth Night - but Viola's got some issues with his plans.  Juliet's risen from her grave, Ophelia's rethinking her death by dunking, and Lady McDoogle - from the lesser-known of his Scottish plays - seems to be loose with a dagger.  What else could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, it turns out.  The ridiculous scenarios come thick and fast in this well-written comedy, based (very) loosely on the lives and deaths of Shakespeare's leading women.  Don't worry if you're not an expert on the classic plays; the most basic of knowledge will see you through, and while our characters' personalities are inspired by the Bard, Whose Shoes Theatre have turned them into something all their own.

Viola, I think, was my favourite; played by Katie Fry as a posh and practical stalwart, she goes along with Twelfth Night's hare-brained plot and takes the odd dead body in her stride.  But she meets her match in the resurrected Ophelia, whose temporary demise hasn't cured her nymphomania - actress Hanna Lambert's wide-eyed seduction is an utter joy.  Rachel Cahill's Juliet is no less well-observed, a tantruming toddler who wants her man back right now, while the tartan-clad Lady McDoogle stereotypes my homeland so flamboyantly I just can't be bothered to take offence.

Shakespeare himself appears only in voice-over, but he's very much part of this too; Sam Rowlands has the petulant genius to a T, sardonically slapping down his unruly creations in hilariously un-Elizabethan terms.  And the script pokes affectionate fun at the great man's foibles, suggesting that some of his less credible plot twists came about simply because he had to make them up as he went along.

There's maybe a lesson hiding here about Shakespeare's treatment of women - at the least, the play points out that their primary function is to die - but really, I'm not inclined to take it that seriously.  Let's just enjoy it for what it is: a well-structured, well-performed, laugh-out-loud comedy, with enough cultural references to float your boat but not so many that you'll feel at sea.  Highly recommended.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.