Words by: Marco Pantaleon
The Compact Shakespeare Session is the type of play you would see in a 1970s New York back alley when modern theatre was just about to blossom. There was no stage that separated the performers from the audience, it was just a large empty space in the middle which was given for the cast to perform and move freely. There were two tall semi-functioning stands that lit the room, some bulbs were barely illuminating. No extravagant decorations were added; neither were the casts’ make-up too thick albeit a tiny mask for some. However, none of this mattered. It didn’t take much to bring this project to life: just wit, passion, and some courageous acting. These were the characteristics that animated the project that comprised the four great tragedies: King Lear, Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth.
Differentiating from the classic 10-minute Shakespeare skit, the Compact Session added another twist: multiple roles from the plays were to be played by single actors. This was both a challenge and an opportunity to display the casts’ wide range of skillsets and overall versatility in acting. The solo-acts would jump from position to position, back and forth, conversing with themselves as actors but taking on totally different roles as they transformed from one character to another. This was signalled by their radical change in tonality, gesticulation, and movement — some of the actors even made use of minor costume changes to highlight their frequent change personas. As such, Dr. Joachim Antonio, who both directed and was the sole actor in the play Macbeth, simply melted into his character — or rather, characters. He dazzled his audience with his all-around magic.
With no other actor accompanying the solo act on stage, there were plenty opportunities for the solo-acts of Macbeth and Othello to interact with their audience. The ones in the front rows had it best. When the lengthy and cathartic monologues characteristic to any Shakespeare play commenced, the actors would often turn to the audience as tools for their drama. The character would focus on one member of the audience with attempts to draw a response from them. Many giggled, others pointed to their seat mates, trying to redirect the attention. All responded awkwardly but candidly, but all in good fun.
This way of acting certainly cops to our innate love for storytelling. Although baffled at first at this unfamiliar line of acting, the audience soon realized that it wasn’t uncommon at all. This form of narration is actually seen on a daily basis. It’s seen on how we enact how our crushes talked to us or how something funny transpired in one of our classes. The Compact Shakespeare project suffuses to the light of theatre the tales of our everyday — and that’s what makes it so playfully relatable.
The genius of the Compact Shakespeare session may ultimately lie in its brevity. The ability to encapsulate the full Shakespearean experience into four short skits is brilliant in itself. If you animate the production for too long a time, then some heads would be dozing off into wonderland. Similarly, if you cut the production too short, not many will be able to imbue the fullness of Shakespeare. But the time didn’t seem to matter for most of the viewers. It seemed as if they were willing to watch three of four more skits after the last one was enacted. Applause lit the room. The audience wanted more.