by Diana Miranda
Freya, a teenager, is dealing with the micro-universe of lockdown life. She delves into music to evade an annoying younger sibling and two stressed-out parents struggling with employment insecurities. While dealing with home school, Freya daydreams about a boy and wishes she could know if her dreams are reciprocated. Enter Mab, Shakespeare’s neglected character now brought centre-stage in this new play by Danielle Pearson.
Queen Mab has dominated William Shakespeare’s imagery as the faerie who fills soldiers’ dreams with death, courtiers’ with money, and lovers with lust. She enters the Shakespearean universe in Mercutio’s monologue in Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy that Freya considers a romance, but that Mab sees as a warning. Mab appears in Freya’s life through an open window as a technicolour Peter Pan, with baggy trousers and Converse trainers. Freya is the portrait of a shy teenager with issues that may seem trivial to an adult, but thinking back to the mindset of a 15-year-old reminds audiences of the fears and vulnerability involved in coming of age.
As within a faerie circle, Freya and Mab move around a circular space outlined by a thick rope at St. Paul’s Church gardens. Freya’s room is elevated on a wooden platform filled with dozens of spray-painted, piled up books. Sam Glossop’s sound design adds density to the space with a soundscape composed by detailed effects and other
characters’ voices that actors Erica Flint (Mab) and Jo Patmore (Freya) match with choreographed actions.
Directed by Georgie Staight, Queen Mab reconciles the 16th and the 21st centuries through diverse elements, like Mab’s verses in iambic pentameter in contrast with Freya’s modern language. Isobel Nicolson’s design reinforces this balance with a golden ochre set splashed with silvery neon colours. Furthermore, the musical atmosphere
contributes by harmonising Mab’s dreamy flute melodies against Freya’s drumbeats and the pop ballads she plays on her guitar.
At its heart, the play navigates young people’s insecurities during lockdown, which parallel those of an adult but receive less public exposure. Both Mab and Freya explore an atmosphere of loneliness and boredom that change once they find unexpected friendship in one another.
Flint and Patmore make up a talented cast that keeps the audience’s gaze hooked. Patmore’s performance displays occasional outbursts of emotion and hints of physical comedy that evoke many smiles. The naivete that Flint brings to her representation of Mab adds to these subtly comical moments. Her delicate hand gestures, along with her animal-like movements, give her the air of an ethereal being. The music they play showcases their abilities as actor-musicians, particularly in the case of Patmore. As Freya, she has an original song that, although a bit long to serve its purpose in the play, is a tenderly moving moment.
Through live music and storytelling, Pearson’s Queen Mab brings Shakespeare closer to young audiences. It shows a glimpse of The Bard’s legacy through Mab’s untold story and her journey to spiritual maturity after this 21st-century plague.
Queen Mab runs through 26 June.
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