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Undead Bard review at Theatre N16, London – ‘awkward and overlong’

Robert Crighton in Undead Bard Robert Crighton in Undead Bard

Unless you have been living under a rock since January, it won’t have escaped your notice that 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. And, unless you have Horatio’s patience, you’ll be sick to death hearing about it. Robert Crighton is, hence Undead Bard, his ill-conceived, overlong, one-man crusade against our obsession with Stratford’s most celebrated export.

In the first half, The Shakespeare Delusion, Crighton delivers a parodic lecture as a profusely sweating, recently divorced and entirely deranged Shakespearean scholar. He riffs surreally upon the eternally asked, eternally pointless quest to discover who really wrote all those plays. As a lampoon of those unhealthily fixated on the authorship question, it’s mildly witty. As a portrait of insanity, it’s childish. As anything else, it’s just an incoherent mess.

In the second half, The Ever Living!, Crighton summons forth the spirit of Shakespeare from the grave, then performs a shambolic blend of rambling stand-up, awkward audience interaction, and uninspired character comedy. There are irrelevant (presumably wacky) diversions into 1980s kids’ cartoons, some stunningly inept attempts at academic insight, and an awful lot of unintelligible mumbling.

It’s unfair to say that there is nothing to recommend Undead Bard. Crighton sometimes finds an enjoyably deadpan, Rowan Atkinson-esque solemnity as a performer, and his parting message – that we should be staging new writing instead of endlessly reinterpreting Hamlet – undoubtedly has merit. But that’s not enough to fill two 45-minute acts. It’s nowhere near enough. There’s a naked paucity of polished, thought-out material here.

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Awkward, overlong one-man show about our obsession with Shakespeare