Catriona Scott’s final student-written play, Antic Disposition, certainly shows off her impressive understanding of some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters. Despite this clear deep well of knowledge, the play tends to go for low-hanging fruit, and is only sparingly funny or insightful.
The set is simple but well done. A busy set; it clearly distinguishes the spaces as a patient waiting room and a psychiatrist’s office without requiring actual physical barriers. This set-up allows plenty of central space for the actors to move through, though action is at times limited to only one armchair and a chaise lounge for lengthy dialogues between patients and the doctor.
In both outfitting and portrayal, the characters are equally colourful, generally being multi-dimensional personalities with their enjoyments, annoyances and neuroses well communicated by all parties. The whole cast takes full advantage of the rich source material, and particular praise is due to Peter Simpson and Tobias Parker, playing Richard III and Hamlet, respectively. Simpson’s Richard III is a powerful presence the moment he walks into the room, with a hunched back, uncomfortable movement and an exuberance that increases when he gets excited about fratricide or misleading those around him. Simpson’s comic timing is excellent, and the pure enthusiasm of his performance gives much-needed energy and humour where a more subtle portrayal would not have. Parker on the other hand, manages to maintain Hamlet’s depressive mood whilst being equally funny in his angsty musings on the troubles of picking the right pencil or filling out a form. The play is at its best in instances like these; when it takes one of the characters and emphasizes a problematic and humourous aspect to an extreme and places them in far more mundane situations.
Despite the strong characterisation throughout the cast; the quality of acting remains a major issue throughout the play. Lines are usually either poorly read or poorly written, with the majority of the cast tending to sound stilted and unnatural, and poor comic timing ruins the delivery of jokes that may otherwise have been quite effective. Jokes rarely produce more than a knowing internal ‘Ha, I get that!’ or overstay their welcome. For example, a running gag is the titles of Shakespeare’s plays coming up in normal conversation. While funny when they appear suddenly, when the namedrops are clearly set up with contrived dialogue, it is the set-up which remains mildly funny, while actually naming the play afterwards falls entirely flat.
To the play’s credit, it does a good job of ensuring jokes that required prior knowledge of Shakespeare are either well-explained or unobtrusive. Great subtle inclusions are Richard III’s thick West Country accent or his continuous ‘asides’ which are clearly overheard by the rest of the characters. Clear context makes it abundantly clear that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s marital problems stretch a bit further than a lack of communication. In general however, the exposition and payoff of jokes are poorly structured, poorly delivered, and often aimed at easy and obvious targets despite the wealth of character depth available.
As a one-act about recognisable pieces of fiction visiting a psychiatrist, the play could have done perfectly well as simply a series of comedic skits. However, it does attempt to go further and devotes considerable sections to less comedic messages. This unfortunately works to its detriment. An overarching plot features the psychiatrist turning out to be an insane man named William Bard writing plays about his imaginary patients. This is as un-meaningful as it is un-funny. Comparatively lengthy sections are devoted to how perhaps the reason these characters are so troubled is specifically so that we are entertained by them. This is far too obvious and simple an idea to warrant the time spent on it. Juliet (Haley Wilson)’s delivers a speech on how society and parents, both modern and Elizabethan, shape the children into muddy reflections of themselves while blaming the symptoms expressed by the children instead of the causes. This is actually extremely interesting. Her speech is entirely devoid of humour, and is one of the highlights of the play, but unfortunately is one of the only times the depths of the characters used as the material in this play are presented in a way worth watching.