The Serpent’s Tooth at Shoreditch Town Hall
Published; 15 November, 2012
by TOM FOOT
I HAVE a soft spot for the King Lear character Edmund who says: “Now, Gods, stand up for Bastards!”
In Shakespeare’s tragedy, the “traitor” is demonised as an illegitimate son and, realising this is clearly wrong, starts to tear down the hierarchy Machiavelli-style.
Ruled by nature, not the natural social order, he is – despite some questionable methods – hell bent on egalitarian horizons.
In the dark dungeon-like depths of Shoreditch Town Hall, the Almeida and Talawa theatre companies have conjured a “response” to Shakespeare’s heavyweight tragedy centered on the controversial character.
Edmund is imprisoned in the catacombs of this former seat of local authority power.
With the King and his three heirs dead, Britain has descended into lawlessness. Playwright David Watson’s script presents a time ripe for revolution with echoes of last year’s north African uprisings and laced with hesitation over the violent overthrow of dictators.
A diplomat Abina (Babou Ceesay), with links to the old order, arrives at the prison to dispense justice but is thwarted by the “Warden”.
The character is played by Alexander Campbell in the style and diction of an unhinged Peter Cook. Think the One Leg Too Few sketch, but on crack and ecstasy.
As the cycle of violent overthrow revolves, the moral undertone – an eye for an eye and the whole world ends up blind – rings a little hollow. And in that respect, The Serpent’s Tooth feels like more of an extension of King Lear than a response to it.
Snappy guards order the audience to walk about the set like teachers barking at children on a primary school trip: “Stand there! Don’t touch that! Keep moving!”
There were stand-out performances from Alisha Bailey and Oliver Morgan as Edmund’s guards, a quick-witted script and a suitably unsettling venue.
UNTIL NOVEMBER 17
0207 359 4404