“We have lives beyond these walls”, says Emma (Meg Lake), a modern-day Lady MacBeth, as she asks us to see if the women in our life remind us of Shakespeare’s heroines. Emberfly theatre’s ‘Heroines’ (currently playing at Theatre N16) attempts to present just that on stage, zipping Shakespeare’s most-loved ladies to the twenty-first century whilst retaining the qualities that identify them.
Playing more as a sitcom than a stageplay, we see a flat filled with Shakespeare’s young ladies, modernised. The girl obsessed with her phone is Juliet (Kathryn Louise), whilst the one slumped on beanbags ranting about the environment is Kat (Amy Fallon). Ros (Nell Bradbury), the perpetual student and writer, has recently returned from a forest retreat, and the barista-stroke-actress struggling to be cast is Ophelia (Joanne Sealey). Finally, there is (Cor)Delia (Hannah Abbott), the quietest of the flat, who is somewhat a ragdoll for the rest of the girls, who unload their troubles unto her without asking how she feels.
It’s easy to tell, providing you know Shakespeare, the women they represent. It does, unfortunately, seem a case of tell rather than show with some aspects of character development, though this may be because I know the Shakespeare plays well enough that it is so obvious for me. Kat shouts that she is a “woman who likes to make a racket”, confirming her status as Shrew of the household. The characteristics are woven in well and it was indeed a good mix of women to throw into one house together: a mixture of bubbly, sweet, and feisty. I kind of felt like I was picking my favourite Spice Girl, wondering which one I identified most with.
Though it is a largely retelling of each woman’s arc from Shakespeare, there are some lovely changes and redemptions made. Ophelia, for instance gets an outburst, a moment where she can shout about how tired she is of her trying, and people not understanding her (yes, girl!). Oh, and there’s no death, so Cordelia, Ophelia, and Juliet are safe. There are moments where the dialogue slips into well-known Shakespeare scenes, and these transitions feel a little too shoehorned in, squeezing
The show is structured to echo Shakespeare’s own writing, with Emma being the figure of a chorus member, delivering a well-written prologue and epilogue, and interrupting at the halfway point to essentially ask “what will happen next”, feeling slightly patronising. I’m not entirely sure if her character is necessary. Indeed, there are moments in which the girls slip into Shakesperean dialogue lifted from the pages of the Folio, and these, though wonderfully executed in the case of Juliet, someties felt shoehorned in, such as Ophelia’s outburst of ‘To Be or Not to Be’ (is this because Ophelia has little dialogue in Hamlet and this was the only significant Renaissance dialogue they could use for her?).
In short, ‘Heroines’ is a lighthearted and funny show looking at female friendship through the lens of Shakespeare’s ladies. It is a funny concept, and all actresses do well in the small space. It’s something I could definitely see working well as a web series or sitcom.
I was given a press ticket for this event, but all opinions are my own.