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Lady M
Published on Sunday, 05 August 2012
4

4 stars

C venues - C eca (venue website)
Theatre
1-12, 14-18 Aug, 4:15pm-5:20pm
Reviewed by Will Howard

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

At the risk of opening my first ever FringeGuru review with a bizarre innuendo: what is it with William Shakespeare’s bit parts?  Have the accepted totems of Hamlet, Shylock, Othello et al really been so over-analysed that, to learn more about the plays they inhabit, we must look to the one-or-two-scene wonders in the supporting roles?  Dutch theatre company Het Vijfde Bedrijf (The Fifth Act) seem to think so.  In Lady M, they’ve put on a thoughtful, often-funny, often-tense and sometimes-shocking production, initially reminiscent of a gender-swapped Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.  But as the title suggests, Lady M is based on one of the Bard’s other great tragedies, Macbeth… and is also a much funnier, more intimate and more intense production than the Stoppard masterpiece.

Annemarie de Bruijn takes the only role in the production, as the “gentlewoman” who discusses Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking habits with the Queen of Scotland’s doctor. It’s clear merely from watching the show that this is a passion project for de Bruijn, and I personally can’t imagine the narrative being led by anyone else. She exudes personality from the moment the audience sets foot in the theatre (well, room is more accurate), talking with us and even directing us to the best seats in the house (room? I’ll stop now). It’s almost unfair to characterise her act as a performance, because it’s based so strongly around the reactions of the audience – especially during the first quarter of the production, concerning the gentlewoman’s humble beginnings as a scullery maid.

De Bruijn performs the character as if the gentlewoman is talking directly to the audience, the metaphorical fourth wall long since demolished. She awaits applause, constantly makes eye contact with whomever she can, and even explains her own jokes when they don’t get a loud enough laugh. It sometimes walks the tightrope between iconoclastically fresh and slightly insufferable, but de Bruijn’s sheer enthusiasm and spirit quickly pull things back from the brink.

However, this is a production that’s as visual as it is verbal, with heavy emphasis on de Bruijn’s undeniable talent for physical theatre alongside some masterful lighting and set design.  A case in point is the sequence in which de Bruijn’s character overhears Macbeth and his infamous wife plotting to kill the visiting King of Scotland.  Kneeling on a chest, she places her ear to its lid, as a single spotlight hits her from stage left. Over the top of this striking image, the dialogue from the scene is played; it’s brilliant, magnificently signposting the point where the stakes get higher and the tone gets a hell of a lot darker.

The only fault I can find is that it’s rather difficult to know what this play actually about. Perhaps it’s a comment on Shakespeare being overrated – an idea reflected in the final words of the show, which are way too good to be spoiled here. But I may be wrong; this feels like a production with too much passion, energy and drama to end on such an over-played note. Even with that final ambiguity, though, this is still a show to be recommended to the ends of the earth – profound, exciting, and as funny as anything Shakespeare-related you’re likely to find this Fringe.  Don’t leave Edinburgh without experiencing the ultimate behind-the-scenes look at one of the greatest tragedies ever written.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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