The premise of Mocketh the Weak is promising – a faux game show featuring Shakespeare’s most famous fools, competing in a battle of wits and sharp tongues. It received some positive reviews from the Brighton Fringe Festival, and I enjoy absolutely anything even remotely Shakespearean and so I was looking forward to it. As I sat down in the fairly small Canal Cafe theatre, I had high hopes. ‘Studio Manager’ (Catriona Clancy, also the writer) encourages some audience participation, and the show within the show begins with a jingle that was amusing the first time, less amusing the second and grating by the third, fourth and fifth.
Our first ‘host’ is Petralia (Petra Lea Verhulst) who spoke with a peculiar high tone to her voice, which on top of a pre-existing accent made her quite difficult to understand at times. Shakespeare can be hard enough to grasp as it is, without further obstacles getting in the way. She introduces the first two ‘fools’ to us – Speed (Srabani Sen) of Two Gentlemen of Verona and As You Like Its Touchstone (Jaymes Aaron). Sen is the most fun to watch as she hurls out mouthfuls of Elizabethan insults with ease. Her comic timing and facial expressions are brilliant, and her lines never feel over-performed. In fact, the best moment comes when the lights are dimmed as Sen delivers Prospero’s speech from Act 4 Scene 1 of The Tempest in all its ominous glory. Aaron, and the final two cast members Chryssi Janetou and Navneet Seehra are enthusiastic but occasionally over-zealous and as a result lines feel slightly forced and makes a very witty script feel cheesy. Verhulst is better in the second half as the roles are changed and she becomes Margaret of Henry VI, while Sen becomes the much more likeable host Srabania. Aaron also fits better as the scorned Malvolio of Twelfth Night. Less is certainly more in this case.
Credit must go to the cast for involving the audience and making great use of such a small space and basic costumes, props and set. Highlights include games of charades in which we are required to guess which Shakespeare play is being referred to through mime. There are also some smart limericks, which again the audience has to match to a certain play. The trouble with these games is that they require an advanced knowledge of Shakespeare’s work to be enjoyable, and so some may find it a little ostracising.
The writing is clever and funny in places and draws on classic lines from well known plays of the Bard, and while the idea is original and inventive, the execution isn’t as great as I had hoped it would be. Upon watching Mocketh the Weak I came to realise that the brilliance of Shakespeare’s fools often relies on the context they’re in, so to take them from that removes some of their appeal, and they just become – well – fools.
Mocketh the Weak is playing at Canal Café Theatre until November 27. It is playing at the Hen and Chickens Theatre early next year.