It’s not often that I seek out either Shakespeare performances or hip-hop: the former are often long-winded and self-indulgent; and the second consists largely of angry men telling me of their ill-gotten income, vehicular favouritism and sexual proclivities. So, to attend a performance in which the two are combined filled me with a sense of foreboding.
Actor/rapper Charlie Dupré claims that Shakespeare and Hip-Hop have more in common than you might expect. In this one-man (and two instrument), self-written performance, he abridges several of The Bard’s plays into ten-minute raps, interspersed with short insights into the wider history of Elizabethan literature.
We’ve been here before: trying to make Shakespeare accessible by making him faster and colloquial. Dupré’s approach is to take strong acting talent, some outstandingly fast MC’ing, and combine it all with a clever, funny and accessible script.
“Shakespeare was a rapper,” explains Dupré, “And rappers are poets; Eminem is what Shakespeare would be if he were working today. Don’t forget that Shakespeare wrote for bawdy theatres.”
Our performer explodes onto the stage with a verse from Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Puck is a suitable character for him to take on – that narrator of mischief and magic. His masterstroke is in doing what all great education does – teaching without you knowing it.
The performance is excellent, with Dupré convincingly slipping between roles in duologues. Whilst it is certainly an accessible introduction to Shakespeare, audience members who know the plays will take more from it, spotting subtle acknowledgements like a parent watching a Pixar film.
Dupré distils the essential themes of those plays: jealousy and regret in Othello; ambition and hubris in Macbeth; nobility and revenge in Hamlet. I’ve seen all of these plays at least once, but I came away from this experience with a greater understanding of them than before. This isn’t dumbing down – Dupré approaches the works from subtle and illuminating perspectives.
Overall, a great performance of some excellent writing. The chorus of his Stan/Othello homily jarred, but other than that, it’s hard to fault. I’ll definitely watch this again in Edinburgh.