Edinburgh Fringe 2015 Review: Shakespeare Untold: The Party Planner’s Tale

Kicking off our coverage of the Edinburgh Fringe, finds that a ‘scattergun’ retelling of Romeo & Juliet has plenty of ammunition but still manages to shoot itself in the foot

Image: Alex Harvey-Brown, courtesy of Shakespeare’s Globe

Image: Alex Harvey-Brown, courtesy of Shakespeare’s Globe

★★★☆☆

Venue: Pleasance Courtyard

Romeo and Juliet is arguably Shakespeare’s most well-known play, having spawned countless adaptations. With the play having been done so many times before, bringing something new to the table is no easy feat. Shakespeare’s Globe and Seabright Productions make a bold attempt to do something different with the story by telling it from the perspective of the woman who planned the ball at which the two star-crossed lovers first meet. It’s an interesting premise which has a lot of potential, but sadly it doesn’t quite deliver.

As soon as you enter the theatre, you become immersed in the party planner’s world. Songs by female pop singers such as Katy Perry are blasted from the speakers as she fiddles with a line of floral bunting. The set is beautifully constructed and has a stereotypical British summer garden party vibe, complete with grass-effect flooring and artificial foliage. The party planner herself has blonde curls and teams a pair of glittery silver heels with a pink flouncy dress that perfectly encapsulates her bubbly personality.

The anachronistic nature of the staging and the party planner’s costume create an intriguing introduction to The Party Planner’s Tale as you walk into the theatre. However, the show relies too much on the comic nature of the clash between the modern world and Shakespeare’s Verona for laughs, with references to social media and celebrities such as the Kardashians soon becoming tired and stale. Other jokes – for example, Juliet being caught in her Barbie pyjamas and the party planner trying to decide between two identical shades of pink – feel forced and laboured.

Sally Lofthouse offers a confident and enthusiastic portrayal of the party planner but her ditzy persona can be a little grating at times. As a result, the show drags in places and feels overly long, which isn’t ideal considering how short its running time is. Lofthouse handles the transition between different characters well enough – her Romeo is particularly engaging – but it would have been more interesting if the show had used her absence from the ‘known’ text to provide a fresh insight into the characters that feature in Romeo and Juliet. The rare occasions on which the party planner does speak about them in more depth feel contrived and predictable.

By far the best moment in The Party Planner’s Tale is the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt (and then Tybalt and Romeo) following the Capulet ball. Played out with rubber gloves, two balloons (both pink, of course) and an unusually dangerous brush, the re-enactment of the two fights is full of unexpected suspense. However, the dramatic nature of this scene also highlights one of the show’s biggest problems. It often feels like it’s not quite sure what it wants to be or who it’s aimed at, instead choosing to flit between various target audiences and genres in a scattergun approach.

On the whole, The Party Planner’s Tale is a lot of fun at times but its lack of refinement prevents it from being a memorable show.

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