The Worst Was This tells the story of three sisters running a tavern in an imagined post-apocalyptic universe in which Will Shakespeare (Ben Clifford) is a struggling young playwright who can’t write a shopping list, and Christopher Marlowe (Robin Hellier) is his facially deformed friend and contemporary in hiding, writing sonnets and plays and having Will present them as his own. Playing on the idea that much of Shakespeare’s work is stolen from Marlowe, and drawing inspiration from French horror film Delicatessen (1991) as sister Agatha (Sarah Barron) and her lover Bones (Mark Jeary) murder and butcher people for meat, the play unravels a thick and juicy plot that isn’t so much a love triangle but a love pentagon – all delivered in tight verse and prose.

Bloody but fun, the cast play with the text which is both written and directed by Matte O’Brien and deliver the gags fantastically. Particularly memorable is Jeary as Bones, elder sister Agatha’s partner in crime, as he expresses his concerns that murdering innocents for meat and money might not be morally sound. Alcoholic Rue (Lauren Hurwood) is equally entertaining while younger sister Odette (Beth Kovarik) is firm and loving as she desperately tries to remain the object of Chris’ affections. Hellier and Clifford are both strong, charming and commanding in presence and romantically driven in typical Shakespearean fashion, but simultaneously conflicted and tormented by their innermost feelings and desires. A notable mention must go to Vari Gardner, whose mixed bag of costumes from different eras including corsets and bustles, flapper-esque draping skirts and sequinned blouses and pinned leather punk skirts, breathe eclectic life into the show.

As part of The Hope Theatre’s Gothic Season, The Worst Was This’s gruesome albeit bizarre subplot and emotionally charged soliloquies, combined with the intimacy of the small dark space above the Hope & Anchor pub make the whole thing a much more intimate affair, which the play benefits from. It borrows from the works of both Shakespeare and Marlowe to create a perfectly stitched together Elizabethan love story. In the style of the bard, The Worst Was This contains twists and turns, resurrections and deaths, and loves both unrequited and forbidden. In an original style that blurs the lines between classic and modern, The Worst Was This has all the great tropes of Elizabethan drama updated with the wit and modernisms of today’s world. Despite feeling a little directionless at times, it is absurd, dark and funny all at the same time, making it a great winter watch.

The Worst Was This is playing at The Hope Theatre until 26 November. For more information and tickets, see The Hope Theatre website.

Photo: Andy Field