Simon Fortin’s … Or Not To Be: How Shakespeare Could Change Your Death is an entertaining musing on the ethereal (if permanent) nature of death, dying, and mortality, that takes us on a ride through much of Fortin’s life and winds up inextricably entangled with Shakespeare and his penchant for overly dramatic deaths. The easy-to-digest episodes that the show is broken up into make for neat contemplations on different aspects of death, and dying, and Fortin keeps the show moving with his magnetic presence and entrancing voice.
The real draw is Fortin’s fantastic portrayal of several iconic Shakespeare deaths, directed to perfection by Christian Coulson, and his attendant discussion of how those deaths impact the plays they appear in, and how they inform our understanding of deaths in a broader sense. In particular, there is a marvelously staged dialogue over the death of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet in which Fortin engages an imaginary member of the audience in a lecture he is giving on “Unexamined Hate in Romeo and Juliet” in Belfast. His impassioned exhortations are accompanied by a great moment where he performs Mercutio’s death scene with the relevant page of the play on display behind him, displaying a graceful mastery over Shakespeare’s prose that further drives home the impact that Mercutio’s death has on all of us in the audience.
If this all sounds rather morbid and grim, rest assured that Fortin’s delightful humour bubbles throughout the play, constantly bringing us to laughter with his various impressions, asides, and on-stage deaths – often sending up his own life and career to great effect and reaction from the audience. The keen line of humour that runs through the play also underscores the dreary reality that faces us all: that one day we too must “shuffle off this mortal coil”, and depart whether we are ready or not.
As always at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square, the technical aspects of the show are well oiled and perfectly cued. There is a pitch-perfect audiovisual aspect to the play, and this is not only cleverly assembled but also well run by the stage management, never leaving awkward pauses where the audience is unsure of the state of the show – something that we often see in smaller theatres. The music, too, plays an important part, and various strains often accompany Fortin’s monologues to grand effect, always audible but never drowning out his delivery even when his voice is lowered to deliver a telling line or insightfully gruesome remark.
We leave the theatre pondering deeply, which is always a welcome way to end any performance, and for that Fortin must be commended – both for his physical displays, and his intuitive but perceptive comments and dialogues on death.
… Or Not To Be: How Shakespeare Could Change Your Death is on at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square from February 21 – 29. Tickets are available from the box office and on Computicket.