Most of the new writing performed in Oxford aims to impress. Often raising the sort of serious issues which keep students up at night – such as the nature of language – a few will even attempt the odd reference to student life to engage the audience. Tragedy: A Comedy has no such mighty purpose. It is not hoping to be recognised as the most original and thought provoking production of Trinity. Instead Asha Hartland’s play for O*LES is an inventive and knowing reworking of very famous material. As she says herself ‘it’s meta’! So, if you’ve spent the entire year procrastinating by wondering what would have happened if Hamlet and Macbeth had met Juliet the same night as Romeo, this is the show for you.
There are lots of other Shakespearian characters thrown in for good measure. The tragic heroes all receive, or at least ask for, help from various sources such as Father Lawrence, who is presented as a very doddery and deaf old man, and the three witches, who are Oxford tutors. The famous ‘double, double toil and trouble’ speech is now focused firmly on the setting of exam papers and essay deadlines. In Macbeth the witches gave out impromptu advice for free for but their new incarnations clearly feel that knowledge has a price. It’s just a shame for Romeo that they havent decided quite what they want to charge.
Shakespeare and Marlowe both make appearances thoughout, arguing over their relative merits as playwrights and poets. The blank verse has been transformed, however, into something more modern so be prepared for the most intellectual rap you’re likely to hear from these writers. There are also songs at various moments with the finale adding in a surprise new form of the supernatural to accompany the ghosts and witches. The rousing anthem quite takes the pathos out of the obligatory body count without which no self-respecting tragedy – comic or otherwise – would dare be seen, alive or dead.
If the draining essays and exams of Trinity have been getting you down then I suggest that a trip to Wadham Gardens in 8th Week could provide some much needed relief in the form of Light Entertainment. The references aren’t obscure so no one will feel excluded, the songs are catchy and the plot absolutely absurd. This tale of ‘Juliet, and Macbeth, and Hamlet, and Romeo’ is far from a ‘tale of woe’.