The Bard unplugged on the 'Fringe'

One place William Shakespeare is alive and kicking is Edinburgh. The annual arts extravaganza in the Scottish capital kicks off with the Festival Fringe (through Aug. 29). It is the wild gosling that long ago outgrew the tame mother goose (the official festival, which runs from Aug. 14 to Sept. 4).

Anyone can perform on the Fringe - amateur, professional, and in-between. And this year a sizable bunch of Fringe performers are in love with Shakespeare. (Whether Shakespeare would be in love with the Fringe is a matter of speculation.)

Here are some of the things the Fringe is doing to the Bard:

Sweet Moon Theatre is doing "Bottom's Dream" - a 55-minute version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The Munich Shakespeare Company is staging the same confusing frolic full of mischievous fairies and quarrelsome lovers as a pop opera. An American high-school theater festival group is setting "Midsummer" in the 1920s. The play is also transformed into dynamic physical theater by the Yohangza Theatre Company from Japan.

And that's just the "Dream."

"The Comedy of Errors," with "a strong Commedia del Arte flavor" is offered, in all its wild confusion, by Cygnet Theatre. A "punchy version" of "The Merchant of Venice" is being presented by a group called Poor Tom.

Ariel Productions are playing "Richard II," describing it as a "Shakespearean political thriller." There is an outdoor "Taming of the Shrew" by a loch, a musical version of "As You Like It," and a drag version of "Richard III."

As for "Romeo and Juliet," four variations can be seen - one by an Austrian-and-Scottish youth collaboration; one ("sexy, vibrant, passionate") by the About Turn Theatre Company; one, straying rather far from the original, called "Romeo & Juliet - Deceased" in which Romeo, in limbo, falls out of love with the heroine; and a high school contribution, "Romeo, You Idiot."

"Twelfth Nights" abound. Some are theater with music. Some go the whole way and turn the play into a musical.

A highly professional version is the brainchild of actor Giles Brandreth. It is enchanting and funny from start to finish, sticking respectfully to Shakespeare's words (though cutting them quite considerably), but breaking frequently into song, mainly Hollywood movie-musical style: "Gigi," "Hello Dolly," "Oklahoma!" Strange how it all seems quite natural, really. "If music be the food of love...."

But no play is more ubiquitous than "Macbeth." All sorts of versions and variations abound: one performed by four actors; another a stylized version; still others taking audiences on a walking tour of Edinburgh's Old Town or turning the play into a multisensory experience.

An impressive production by the University of Cambridge ADC Theatre cuts the action in "Macbeth" to one hour, making it fast moving indeed - maybe too fast moving to offer a convincing look into the thought processes of this time-conscious play. But it contains much fine acting, competently spoken verse, and compelling movement. A first-class student production.

And there is also, if you have the stamina, "Shakespeare for Breakfast" - a witty, slick, very funny running together of Shakespearean characters in a Bardic take on the British reality-television show, "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here." It's performed by five young women who make you believe there are 15 of them. Served with croissants. Surely Will would approve. Of the croissants, at least.

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