New Old Friends’ touring production of Silly Songs of Shakespeare, performed by the musical incarnation of the company Fearg and the Sonnettes, made a one-night stop at the Greenwich Theatre, bringing music, sparkly dresses, and a surprising amount of educational information about Shakespearean theatre to a small audience of dedicated Shakespeare fans. The musical quartet performs two hours of jazzy ballads, a capella odes, and puppet performances involving a stuffed William Shakespeare as they sing songs about the Bard and his plays.
The theatre was definitely too large and too formal for this performance, and while the band did a good job connecting with the audience and trying to erase that distance, the show could have been much more appealing in a cafe or bar setting, where casual audience interaction is much easier to manage. Fearg and his three lovely lady companions did the best they could with the venue they had, however, telling jokes, donning silly costumes, and utilising a wide variety of props to bring their songs and stories to life.
The band was certainly very musically talented, but the songs they performed fluctuated a bit in quality. While some bits were definitely hilarious–the Hamlet infomercial and the Shakespeare conspiracy theory book song were two of my favorites–others, such as some of the songs that did little more than list the plays and brief synopses, fell flat. Whether it was the lyric-writing or they just needed a drummer to bring up the pace, the energy of the entire set was not as high as it could have been, keeping instead a slow, jazzy feel throughout. A few songs of this, if they are well-written and entertaining, is fine, but in two hours of music a few upbeat, rocking songs could have broken things up and reenergised the audience.
One aspect of the show I was not expecting was how educational it was, without overwhelming the audience with facts. I now feel that I have a solid understanding of the history of the English succession between Richard II and Richard III (about 100 years), a refreshed knowledge of some of the plays I have not read in several years, and a decent familiarity with the characters and plots of the comedies I have yet to see or read. These songwriters certainly care about Shakespeare and his works deeply, and that certainly came across in the performance. Add in a drummer and a bit more alcohol, and their listeners will be in for an even wilder ride.