Merely are a repertory theatre company, meaning they put on a series of plays in rotation, performing one whilst rehearsing the other, or putting on multiple plays at once – currently Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet. Classic repertory theatre produced both Ian McKellan and Judi Dench, but is a dying breed of theatre, and Merely are reviving it with great gusto.
They are also a ‘genderblind’ theatre company (very modern), so there is no distinction as to who plays what role, boys are girls and girls are boys. The company is made up of five girls and five boys, and male-female ‘twins’ rehearse the same part i.e. there is a girl and a boy both versed in exactly the parts, and for each performance they rotate, so you might get any one combination of five performers the night you go to see the play.
Yesterday evening I arrived at Greenwich Theatre in a slightly bad mood – post holiday blues, a long long cycle ride all the way from Battersea via Kennington, Camberwell, Peckham, Lewisham and New Cross and most of the pollution in London, and supper eaten in about 5 minutes flat. But after the first few minutes I was completely entranced and delighted by this charming performance of Shakespeare’s comedy of mistaken identities.
The five performers were absolutely brilliant. With only a few props, this light-hearted Shakespeare play was brought to life, and I was completely gripped. And at no point did I switch off due to heavy going Shakespearean language, it was throughly entertaining from start to finish.
Particularly captivating were Robert Myles as the slimily suave Malvolio, and Hannah Ellis and Luke Barton as the merry and bumbling double act Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek.
However, the person who really stole the show for me was Tamara Astor as Duke Orsino’s not so foolish fool, Feste. Not only did she play the wise fool charmingly, with lines delivered with perfect timing and apt facial expressions, she also sang beautifully, played the flute and the accordion, and even delivered some of her lines whilst doing a head stand. Her character was a pleasingly calm antidote to the high-spirited mayhem created by Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek.
It was such a super evening, Merely thank you for having me. I didn’t stay for the ‘Genderblind’ questions and answers at the end, as really I think the performance made the point clearly enough – the actor will make the character their own regardless of their gender. Gender is not, not important, it just doesn’t need to be the defining feature of an actors performance.
It was really great fun and I may well come back and see Romeo and Juliet on Friday.
Twelfth Night is showing this week on Thursday and Saturday at 7.30pm at the Greenwich Theatre.
Romeo & Juliet is showing this week on Thursday at 2.30pm, and Friday at 7.30pm at the Greenwich Theatre.