How do you bring the entirety of Shakespeare’s works together into a single moment? This is a question asked by Blank Space Productions, whose work Unbound arises from three years of development around retellings of the canon, with a particular focus on bringing power and autonomy to female characters.
Unbound Collective, consisting of writers and performers Bridget Le May, Gala Shevtsov, Hannah Evely, Hock Edwards, Kynan Hughes, and Ryan Marano, have undertaken a huge feat in writing and developing the show. Spending time over the past two years in and out of lockdowns, the collective took Shakespeare’s words and characters, unmooring them from their original context and stitching together a new narrative that is fresh and unexpected, yet also true to the tropes and themes of many Shakespearean dramas – particularly the pursuit of power, revenge, and jealousy.
Featuring three sisters Ophelia, Volumnia and Emilia as the central characters, the narrative weaves together recognisable and lesser known lines from Shakespeare’s works. The central act, subverting the narrative to uplift female agency, stories and experiences, means that the better-known male characters including Hamlet, Iago and Macbeth, become either villains or buffoons, slightly inept men present only for the audience’s amusement. Meanwhile, the three women embody the famous characteristics of Shakespeare’s heroes: blind jealousy, thirst for power, and the burning desire for revenge.
Presented with a neutral, flexible set, the focus is very much placed on the characters, and the actors did a superb job of delivering the Shakespearean language with nuance and skill, bringing the audience along through their obvious pleasure at speaking and performing the work.
With such well-known characters, it was difficult not to mentally reverse-engineer the characters with their original stories. It seemed that the devisors deliberately didn’t add much context to the characters in order to give them a ‘clean slate’, but without providing any of their own context, such as character traits or backstories, I didn’t connect with any character as distinct from the other, which made it difficult to relate to them. This might have been the point – the characters were never given enough context in the original texts to have a personality or motivations – but I found that they weren’t necessarily well developed enough in Unbound to subvert or undermine their original contexts regardless.
It’s also an unusually paced performance, with the entire narrative occurring in the 90-minute first act. After a short interval, the audience is invited back to their seats where a psychedelic orgy of dancing, playing, and celebrating unfolds, complete with confetti and animal costumes. This unlinking of the two elements to Shakespeare’s works – the deep interrogation of human nature alongside a raw and unfettered joy of performance, of human connection, and of the slightly wacky and weird – felt a little too disconnected to me. While I enjoyed the unexpected ending and its celebration of life, of connection, and of human nature, I felt that it could have perhaps been an addendum to the work rather a ‘second act’ – perhaps something the audience could participate in after the show, on a voluntary basis. However, Unbound is a fresh and exciting approach and an absorbing and immersive performance to watch, and I look forward to seeing the Unbound Collective’s next steps.
Blank Space Productions
The Blue Room Theatre, Northbridge
Producer: Amber Kitney
Stage Manger and Lighting Designer: Hannah Portwine
Sound Designer: Rebecca Price
Concept and actors: Bridget Le May, Gala Shevtsov, Ryan Marano, Kynan Hughes, Hannah Evelyn, Hock Edwards
Unbound plays until 4 September 2021