by Laura Kressly
Since 2003, there has been a summer of free, open-air theatre at The Scoop, a sweeping, granite amphitheatre on the Thames next to City Hall. This year’s double-bill is a 90-minute version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and a new children’s musical, The Sea Queen. Performed by one cast doing double-duty, Twelfth Night is the far superior show though there is plenty to appeal to young children in The Sea Queen.
Based on Irish pirate Grainne O’Malley, The Sea Queen is thick with original songs but thin on plot. We first meet Grainne as a 12-year-old who wants to go to see with her father, a captain of a trading ship, and her older brother. Her strong will and convincing arguments eventually cause her dad to concede. She is suddenly 24, and we assume she’s had a great time and proved her worth, because she’s given the captainship when her father falls ill. When the story shifts to her dealings with the English, it gets more interesting and the tension is more convincing. There’s plenty of imperialism and English superiority on show, but what is most impactful is Grainne’s meeting with Queen Elisabeth I.
Stephanie MacGaraidh plays Grainne with plenty of spirit and ambition. She is not a woman to be argued with, and neither is Veronica Beatrice Lewis’ Queen Bess. Their scene is the highlight of the show, though there are some jolly song and dance numbers that are good fun. At only an hour long, this is a good length for kids but the book is unsatisfying in its brevity.
Edited down to a quick, 90 minutes by director Rae Mcken, the Twelfth Night has a more contemporary look and with added queerness. Though the story already hinges on the shipwrecked Viola disguising herself as a man and Olivia falling in love with her, the ending where all is revealed and made heterosexually well is totally flipped in this production. Though it’s a lovely twist, it is short-changed by a lack of build-up and clarity.
The performances are mixed, but the strongest are excellent. Lewis, Elisabeth in The Sea Queen, is now a sassy, Jamaican Maria who has no patience for other’s nonsense. Acushla-Tara Kupe is a playful Feste with a powerful singing voice that’s often utilised to good effect, particularly as a finale followed by a jig. Heidi Lynch is a great Olivia; her opening coldness that refuses Orsino’s advances effectively juxtaposes her later enamouring of Viola.
Both shows use a single set designed by Mayou Trikerioti, with grey curves blending in well with the Scoop’s stone but elements that also fit each show. Large sails are replaced by a green wall with a floral border, and there are multiple levels and textures but it doesn’t make the cast crowd together. There’s plenty of space to spread out, though there are few moments of impressive choreography. Both shows use radio mics, which are necessary due to the new pop-up bars lining the Scoop as of this summer, but they are prone to malfunction and cutting out. Hearing can be difficult at these times, though there’s little the company can do given the location.
Despite this, the relaxed environment is great for an evening picnic and BYO bevvies. Given that both shows are free – though donations are welcome – it’s a good way to take advantage of these last few weeks of summer.
The Sea Queen and Twelfth Night run through 1 September.
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