REVIEW: Talisman Fringe celebrates the work of the Bard

By James Smith

21st Jun 2023 | Opinion

Rod Wilkinson and Paige Phelps were excellent hosts of Talisman Fringe at the Holiday Inn (image via Talisman Theatre)
Rod Wilkinson and Paige Phelps were excellent hosts of Talisman Fringe at the Holiday Inn (image via Talisman Theatre)

Launched with the intention of bringing variety and attracting new audiences to local shows, Talisman Fringe has been running at the Holiday Inn for over a year now.

Organised by the Talisman Theatre, the monthly mixed bills showcase a range of local talent, with performers from the Barrow Road theatre, as well as from elsewhere across the area.

The performances - which take place on the first Thursday of every month - were born from the 'Tea with the Tali' productions, which saw the Talisman release regular audio pieces through the pandemic, while theatres were shut.

Having seen the positive response to these short pieces, which otherwise would not make it to a local stage, the theatre has continued to find a place to showcase them.

We were lucky enough to be invited to the June instalment, which was a night celebrating the works of William Shakespeare - some 400 years after The First Folio was published.

While I had seen the programme for the night's entertainment in advance, it was hard to know what to expect.

Perhaps born out of secondary school classroom boredom, I was worried the evening would turn into a series of dramatic readings of sonnets and monologues which I would struggle to understand.

But it turns out my fears were unwarranted as we were treated to an hour or so of laughs and enjoyment.

Members of the Talisman Theatre's Youth Group did an excellent job of bringing the Comedic Shakespeare Duologues to life (image via Talisman Theatre)

Interwoven with short passages from the Bard, the evening showcased a range of pieces, all with some connection to Shakespeare.

Ably hosted by the theatre's Rod Wilkinson (Fringe co-ordinator) and Paige Phelps, the evening was well received by the audience, who were engaged throughout.

Rod tested the knowledge of those watching by throwing out some quotes from well known Shakespeare plays, asking for the audience to respond with the next line.

This, I thought, encapsulated the laid-back, welcoming feel the whole evening had to it.

The first short piece 'Body Language' saw two actors argue during a rehearsal, which received a lot of laughs from the sell-out crowd.

Next the Talisman Youth Theatre groups put on two 'Comedic Shakespeare Duologues'.

As well as the three main pieces, the audience was treated to music and some dramatic readings (image via Talisman Theatre)

Written by Rich Rubin, the pieces had the youngsters retell the stories from Othello and Romeo and Juliet, as if they were down the pub or in the hairdressers.

And the young performers produced confident performances, encouraged by the audience. Surely some talent there that will grace the Talisman's mainstage regularly in the future.

After a short interval where guests could replenish their glasses at the Holiday Inn's bar, we were treated to some music, more readings and then 'Will's Dramaturg' written by Rich Rubin.

For me, this was the highlight of the night.

Talking to his overbearing agent, William Shakespeare tries to talk through his latest play - Romeo and Juliet - only to have the whole thing completely written.

Filled with gags and references to other plays by the Bard, the piece was a real hit.

And as with all the pieces across the night, it maximised the space in the hotel's room, and made you in the audience feel almost part of the performance.

William Shakespeare talks to his hapless agent in Will's Dramaturg (image via Talisman Theatre)

Two things struck me most about the night. Firstly, how welcoming both the organisers were to guests, and how encouraging everyone was to all the performers.

And secondly, that even on an evening with a very clear theme, the theatre had managed to pull together a real range of scripts and actors to put on an eclectic mix.

Tickets are now on sale for July's instalment (Thursday July 6), and I strongly encourage you to give it a try.

Every month the theatre puts on two shows, one at 7.30pm and the second at 9pm. 

And for only £5 a ticket, I doubt you will find an evening of such entertainment for such good value, anywhere else in town.

Get your tickets for next month here.


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