Preview: Silly Songs Of Shakespeare @ Greenwich Theatre

(L-R) Feargus Woods Dunlop, Heather Westwell and Bryher Dunsby

Having performed to 5 star reviews in their home town of Bath, theatre company New Old Friends are now bringing their Bardish sing-song extravaganza, Silly Songs Of Shakespeare, to London. You see, they’re singing songs but it’s all done with a theatrical flourish, seeing as the whole thing is inspired by and based on Shakespeare’s works and, as the title fails to mislead, all songs come in differing degrees of silly.

We thought we’d put some questions to Feargus Woods Dunlop and Heather Westwell from New Old Friends in iambic pentameter…

How did the notion for this show arise? 

Heather: We were performing sketch comedy at various cabaret nights and two of our best received sketches were comedy songs about two Shakespeare plays.

Feargus: Yeah, we had Rock ‘n’ Roll Macbeth, and Hamlet – The Musical. Because they were such fun to perform, when Theatre Royal Bath commissioned us to create a show loosely linked with Shakespeare, we pitched the idea of a whole evening of silly Shakespearean songs.

Are these just sonnets in a goofy voice?
Feargus: No, the show is an evening with The World’s First Shakespearean Tribute Band. It’s a 1960s-esque group with a cheesy front man and glamorous backing singers bedecked in beehives and sparkly dresses.

Heather: The closest we get to sonnets is that the girly singers are called the Sonnettes.

Feargus: Well, actually, there is a ground-breaking, taboo-shattering interpretative dance poetry number that features “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”…

Now, Let’s be honest here, Hamlet is bleak. What comedy can there be in such plights?
Feargus: The songs are either comic looks at odd areas of Shakespeare’s legend (like: Did he write the plays? What is iambic pentameter?) or they are retellings of the plays which we call Synopsongs.

Heather: The synopsongs are, as the name of the show suggests, very silly. For example, Romeo & Juliet becomes a rap battle between the Montagues and Capulets and Othello is a Spanish flamenco soap opera. The emphasis is firmly on silly.

Feargus: The line “You can decorate my castle any way you could wish / with bars by the toilet and a Stannah stair lift” in King Lear gives an idea of the flavour.

Do all the silly songs appear in verse?
Feargus: I’m not sure that any are in iambic pentameter, actually. There is a song about it, but it’s not entirely positive.

What, to you, is the Bard’s silliest tale?

Feargus: It’s a bit obscure but at the end of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, one of the two gents attempts to rape his best friend’s fiancé. He’s caught and delivers a four line apology at the end of which the friend, the fiancé and the rapist’s jilted lover go “Oh alright then, let’s all go get married!”

Heather: Titania, Queen of the Faeries, sleeping with a donkey is close. But Olivia falling in love with a man that is actually a woman, but the woman would have been played by a man… Gender bending goodness!

Do you think it’s bad luck to say ‘Macbeth’?
Heather: No, not really. It’s hard to run outside, spin three times and spit every time you say Macbeth when you’re singing a silly song about him.

Feargus: Ben Crystal wrote a very good book called Shakespeare on Toast and in it he explains exactly why Macbeth is cursed. I’ll try to do his ace theory justice very briefly here. Shakespeare is copyright-free so lots of amateur companies perform it. Macbeth is one of the shortest and most famous of his plays so it gets performed even more often, it has an awful lot of swordfights in it, it takes place largely at night. What that all means is that you get a lot of actors running around in the dark waving swords at each other…

The show received some rave reviews in Bath. Do you feel nervous debuting it here?
Heather: Yes. Please be nice to us little West Country folk.

Feargus: We’re equally nervous and excited for the whole tour that follows. It’s going to be quite an experience.

Now, tell us, what comes next for New Old Friends?
Heather: Well, we’ve actually only just had the contracts back for our very exciting next project. We’re going to be producing a stage adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s fantastically funny book The Falcon’s Malteser. We got to meet with Anthony himself just as he was on the press tour for his latest book and had been announced as scripting the Tintin sequel for Spielberg and Peter Jackson, which gave us a great sense of perspective.

Feargus: Obviously, he’s very excited to be working with multi-Oscar winners, but that paled into insignificance next to our adaptation pitch!

Heather: It’s a very funny story about a private detective, Tim Diamond, and his little brother, Nick. One of the Diamond Brothers series books is part of World Book Day this year which is great timing for us.

And, finally: to be or not to be?

Heather: Ah, yes, now that is the question.

Feargus: We recently saw two Aston Martins parked just by Chelsea Bridge with the number plates 2B & NOT2B the other day. Truthfully. Now that is dedication to bardic silliness!

New Old Friends bring Silly Songs of Shakespeare to Greenwich Theatre on Thursday 7 February. Tickets are £15 are available here.

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