Emily Carding is one of the UK’s leading Shakespearian actors. She’s previously demonstrated her formidable talent and versatility in her one-woman versions of Richard III and Hamlet (An Experience).
In Quintessence,originally commissioned by the London Science Museum, she gives us a theatrical mixtape of Shakespeare’s greatest hits held together with a post-apocalyptic narrative. It’s a nifty premise that works as a vehicle to showcase Carding’s incredible range but doesn’t quite stand up as a story in its own right.
Carding embodies an avatar version of Ariel, a digital sprite with the collected works incorporated into their programming in order to restore humanity to the earth. Dressed in a blue morph suit, matching make up and unnerving white contacts, she gives the impression of a cloud made humanoid. Alongside the other guardians, Carding must rebuild the world, using Shakespeare as their guide to the soul. Can the human spirit – this quintessence of dust, as Hamlet put it – be traced through the words of one long dead playwright?
Director Dominque Gerrard creates clear transitions between Carding’s emotive Shakespeare speeches and her slightly sinister, mechanical energy as the well-read android. There’s a Shakespearian snippet for every facet of human nature. Carding takes us to Henry V for war, Romeo and Juliet for love and Hamlet for the existential angst. To be or not to be takes on new symbolism as super computer Carding considers her own destruction in terms of binary code, to be one or to be zero?