The Course of True Love

William Shakespeare and Ben Spiller
1623 Theatre Company
Derby Museum and Central Library
(2006)

Museums and libraries can be quiet places where staff tend to frown on people who raise their voices. But to celebrate Shakespeare's 442nd birthday, 1623 Theatre Company decided to go against convention by staging a promenade production in the Joseph Wright Room at Derby Museum and among the books in the city's main library.

1623, which takes its name from the year Shakespeare's First Folio was published, specialises in staging the Bard's works in non-traditional spaces. The Course of True Love consists of scenes from fifteen of Shakespeare's best-known plays with couples showing that dream relationships never did run smooth.

The show is a mammoth task for two of the three actors who play the various couples. They have to switch quickly from one play to another with only a clothing accessory or a prop to help them get into the character.

At Derby Museum the production had a slow start. Ben Adams and Rebecca Gadsby took time to settle into Romeo and Juliet and their passion for each other wasn't quite as animated as it might have been.

The "get thee to a nunnery " scene from Hamlet was disappointing as Adams didn't bring out the anger of the Prince who was steadfast in his desire to show the semblance of madness. At the same time Gadsby tended to rush her words, some of which sounded garbled.

Macbeth wasn't any better as Gadsby didn't give Lady M enough light and shade. She didn't show enough emotion in her "Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here" speech which didn't begin to convey the beauty of Shakespeare's language.

The production really took off with Much Ado About Nothing. Adams won best actor at the Derby Playhouse Eagle Awards last year for his performance as Benedick and he relished the scene as the troubled lover who doesn't know how to chat up a woman. Gadsby came to life as the fiery Beatrice.

The first half continued in an uplifting vein, with the pair of them revelling as Orsino and Viola in Twelfth Night and both being boisterous as Petruchio and Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew.

After the interval there came the most satisfying scene of the evening when the action had moved to the library, with Henry V trying to win the hand of Katharine. Gadsby was touchingly tender as the French princess while Adams produced an almost Hugh Grant-like quality as the king who was an excellent leader but a bumbling lover.

A neat feature which was surprisingly but justifiably included was a scene from Julius Caesar featuring Brutus and Portia, played out in the political section of the library.

Diane Dawson plays Venus the goddess of love who links the scenes with an amusing array of rhyming couplets as well as playing some of the smaller parts including the nurse in Romeo and Juliet and Celia in As You Like It.

It was an unusual and entertaining evening, with three actors and director Ben Spiller committed to putting over their love of Shakespeare in the hope that the audience would be eager to find out more about the Bard's works.

There may have been a few flaws but all credit to 1623 for removing some of the barriers surrounding Shakespeare.

Reviewer: Steve Orme