Last Life : A Shakespeare Play, Greenside @ Infirmary Street intrigued me to review it early this year for a few reasons when I saw a two minute “taster” of it at Greenside’s 2019 launch event. The first was the voice of Khadija Sallet, and the second reason, the intensity of Esther Sophia Artner and Mikaal Bates performing together on-stage.
This work by writer and director Sara Fay George takes, as the title suggests, the words of William Shakespeare from his plays, songs, sonnets, and poems and re-assembles them into a new work. Taking the words of Shakespeare to “cut and paste” into something new, or in a different context from the original is nothing new, it has been done so many times before (particularly at Fringe time), but the results are so often less than pleasing and show up immediately the weakness and lack of imagination of many writers. This one, however, is different; it is constructed with great care and imagination to tell a story of subtle tenderness mixed with harsh reality that in the end defines many of our personal relationships and lives. Are we in control of our life, our fates, or are all things we consider free will pre-destined, are we all prisoners to our own fates, answerable in the end for our actions in life? These big questions, and many smaller ones are explored when the Goddess Kismet (Khadija Sallet) seals “Woman” (Esther Sophia Artner) and “Man” (Mikaal Bates) in a circle of their own fates.
When taken apart and re-assembled by a writer with the skill level of Sara Fay George you realise just how “flexible” the words of Shakespeare can be. You also realise as wonderful line after line of dialogue is spoken that most writers who have ever existed would happily swap all they have ever written for just one of them. The ability of Sophia Artner and Mikaal Bates to not only deliver those lines, but make you believe in them and their characters is something special to watch, the two are magnetic together. Add in the songs and vocals of Khadija Sallet, and everything is falling into perfect alignment here.
There is often by the very different requirements of media a difference in the way a performer will work for stage and television. Stage, by its distance from an audience, requires larger body movements, but a film camera can come in close for those very small movements and facial expressions. Good performers need to be able to do both, and because of the very small performance spaces at many venues in The Fringe, including this one, we as an audience are very close to the people on stage, we can see everything, so the performance has to be a little of both worlds, and it is in the really small details of their performance that everyone (particularly Sophia Artner and Mikaal Bates) excels.
Many people disagree with this next thought, but I believe that often a woman will write differently from a man about many things, and one of those things is relationships and the attention to far more than just the physical aspects of one. This is very much “Shakespeare” from a feminine point of view as the subtle layers between “woman” and “man” are giving us a relationship of many senses. Watching and listening to this work of re-assembled Shakespeare words I do wonder if the often mooted idea of a woman’s hand behind at least some of his works, at least in idea if not final execution, might hold some truth.
There are many layers to this work as “Woman”, “Man” and “Kismet” inter-act with one another, so keep your eyes on all three performers in this work.
For some reason, this work is given an “adult theme” warning, but don’t let that put you off at all, there are lines of explicitness and innuendo, but that was Shakespeare too. There is absolutely no nudity or graphically adult scenes on-stage and every word and movement is in context and vital to the story.
Last Life A Shakespeare Play
Greenside @ Infirmary Street
Aug 2-10, 12-17
Country: United States
Group: The Box Collective and Piece of Yourself
Review by Tom King