Spring in St Andrews is a beautiful time, when it’s not raining or gusting to such a degree that it’s knocking over the skinnier members of the student body. And yet, so often we need an excuse to go even as far as the Botanic gardens, because when your world is 3 streets, a 15-minute walk becomes akin to a marathon. Sonnets and Soliloquies, part of the Shakespeare Festival, has provided that excuse. By filling the gardens with kernels of Shakespearean drama and poetry, Sonnets and Soliloquies added artistic verve and a sense of exploration to a sunny afternoon in the garden.
Performers were spread throughout a section of the garden, as indicated by the programme, which doubled as a map. The audience was encouraged to wander the gardens and approach the actors, who would then launch into their pieces. Use of space was particularly laudable. There were actors hidden in the trees; there were actors brooding by a pond, two of the actors bickered over beers at a picnic table.
This latter example was probably my favorite part of the production. Miles Hurley and Benji Osugo argued about the nature of love, occasionally switching from improvised prose into a rehearsed sonnet. While the switch wasn’t always the most organic, the presentation was fun and unique.
There were other sonnets in store, as well as sections from The Tempest, Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Love’s Labour’s Lost, and they were all highly enjoyable. Certainly, no amount or quality of Shakespeare can make a walk through a sunny garden any worse, so criticizing the actors is almost irrelevant to my enjoyment of the experience.
But if I were to, if only for the, maybe, two people involved who actively seek out criticism, I’d talk about communication. Shakespeare wrote in modern English, but it’s still bloody difficult to parse when hearing. St Andrews’ foremost Shakespearean director, Benji Bailey, uses a number of techniques to draw meaning out of that language, and make it accessible to an audience. Listening to Sonnets, it was clear that the actors didn’t receive that same level of training. On a similar note, some actors didn’t project such that I could hear them, which is inexcusable to an effective audience of 5.
Organizational difficulties sometimes showed as well. Some actors had multiple pieces, and would take repeat visits to wring all the Shakespearean goodness out of. But I only knew this because director Oli Savage was wandering around telling people. And which people that was true for was equally unclear, which led to a little bit of awkward wandering and discussions like, “Do you think she has anything else to say?” And, “Oh, no, that was the same thing”.
But even when slightly lost or confused, I was wandering in a sunny garden. With occasional interludes provided by one of the greatest writers in the history of the English language. Sonnets and Soliloquies was an extremely pleasant experience. And really, what more can you ask for?