An early work from Tom Stoppard gets a new airing in the latest-mirth filled evening from the terrifically ambitious Studio Theatre Club. The group turns the wonderfully atmospheric Unicorn Theatre (and what a great space it is!) into first a school playground, and then a living room in this sprightly production that went down a treat.
Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth is actually two one-act plays sewn together. They can be performed separately, but, as this production proves, work best together. Both explore the power of Shakespeare's words, as a foundation of learning and as an act of rebellion, and both revolve around interruptions that change the dynamic of events playing out. Dogg's Hamlet follows a group of school children, speaking the language Dogg, whose rehearsals for an upcoming performance of Hamlet are halted by the arrival of a delivery man, speaking English, while Cahoot's Macbeth is a performance of Macbeth that comes under the scrutiny of a police state's inspector.
The play feels a tremendous undertaking for the company, and the ensemble pull it off with energy and skill, deftly juggling multiple roles and languages (Dogg, Shakespeare, English). Director Francesca Richards wisely keeps the staging simple, allowing the text to dominate the production. With so much going on across the two pieces, giving the words room to breathe is the right choice. In an ensemble as tightly-honed as this one, it is tricky to pick out stand-out performances. Each performer brings little touches to their roles that imbue the production with a great deal of charm and character. Matt Kirk dominates proceedings as Dogg, Claudius and the Inspector, becoming a genuinely sinister figure in the production's second half, while Matt Hutchinson's increasingly exacerbated Easy gives the trickier first half a character that audiences can identify with. And I particularly enjoyed the bewildering opening with Charles Vicary, Kat Steiner and Anna Wilson entering the stage and giving us our first taste of Dogg.
At times this feels a slight piece from Stoppard, a cheeky theatrical experiment stretched over two acts. Yet the tension that bristles in the second half leads me to think there is something more here. Language as a form of rebellion is as potent today as it was in the late 70s, and the power of words resounds throughout Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth. There is an interesting performative quality to events, with the Shakespeare clearly being played by actors within the play. It isn't quite in the writer's top tier of works, but this production (with spot-on direction from Richards) makes the case that it should be revisited more often.
With a surprisingly relevant text and talented ensemble, Studio Theatre Club's latest production is a fabulous night at the theatre. While Stoppard's writing can occasionally creak under the strain of the writer's playfulness, the pace of proceedings keeps Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth barrelling along in a love letter not only to Shakespeare, but to language itself.