shakespeare's villainsIt’s a bold move to bring Shakespeare to the Fringe. In a festival surrounded by new scripts, it’s hard to bring a freshness to Shakespeare without a large budget or a bad audience reaction. Shakespeare’s Villains takes on three plays at once, and although it sounds crazy, there’s a method to the madness and what comes out of it is a nicely polished approach to some of Shakespeare’s classics.

The play follows villains from The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, using only original dialogue from the plays. The California Shakespeare Ensemble works deftly between these plays and are a joy to watch. They bring an impressive, if not wholly original, interpretation of the texts, and handle the Shakespeare well. The stand out performance was given by Brian Elerding, whose Mercutio and Sampson in Romeo and Juliet were at times hilarious and gut-wrenching. He clearly relished in the roles, and his death as Mercutio was brilliantly understated.

Another excellent performance came in the form of Jeremy Radin’s Shylock. Never before have I seen the vicious money lender played so sympathetically, and it worked perfectly for challenging how Shylock is seen both as a villain and as the oppressed Jew in a society which deems him an outcast. The sorrow he showed was beautiful and complemented his thwarting at the conclusion of The Merchant of Venice excellently.

Roddy Jessup and Samantha Sloyan’s Macbeth and Lady Macbeth worked nicely as a couple together. I questioned Jessup’s authority as Macbeth, but his utter horror at the murder was chilling alongside Sloyan’s heartless response. The other actors in the ensemble worked well together, though it was clear that there was a varying range of acting skill within the group. Still, the final tableau of these villains being killed, or ostracised, worked nicely to bring the group together.

The choice of centralising the show around villains possibly hindered the performance’s scope. Whereas Shylock and Macbeth are clear villains, the inclusion of Romeo and Juliet seemed out of place due to the ambiguous nature of the feuding households. Still, it was an enjoyable show and proved that Shakespeare can be brilliant at the Fringe, provided it has a good cast.

Shakespeare’s Villians was at theSpace on the Mile as part of EdFringe.