Mad, Bad and Downright Ugly is the new production from Outlawed Nomad; a company that takes classic works and transforms them into new pieces with a folk and bluegrass twist.

In Mad, Bad they’ve picked a selection of Shakespeare’s more unfortunate characters and served up extracts from their most poignant scenes. This series of Bardic best bits comes together to form an hour-long piece that could well be described as an Elizabethan sketch show. More minor figures like Twelfth Night’s poor, proud Malvolio, and lesser-known speeches from plays such as The Winter’s Tale were among those reimagined snippets included. The usual suspects were there as well though; the three witches spell for example and Hamlet’s descent into lunacy.

The piece is billed as a dark comedy and the devised silliness, in partnership with excellent comic timing, delivered truly wonderful moments. Exit pursued by a (teddy) bear, a cat-fight to see which actress would play Ophelia, and a slow motion mass shootout were three such gems.

Creativity and innovation abounded, reintroducing the fun and playful side of Shakespeare. He was above all a theatre maker looking to entertain his audience and that can often be forgotten or lost in modern reverent versions of his plays, but not in this case.

The actors all gave it their all. The energy and mischief shown by this tight-knit, multi-skilled group was boundless. The costumes, staging, direction and the variety within the live instrumentation were all excellent, and they were clearly having a wonderful time.

Unfortunately, and it is highly unfortunate as the work itself was so slick and professional, not everybody has an encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare and, without a clear storyline to help, it was difficult to fully engage with the performance. The narrator did offer a brief lyrical synopsis before each extract, but even so given the complex language and fast pace it was hard to appreciate all that the work had to offer whilst simultaneously trying to understand all the context behind the action.

Overall it was brilliantly done and technically fantastic, and it would be great to see them performing a version of one of his full-length plays. So if you’re up for a challenge or are a scholar of Shakespeare than add two more stars to this show’s rating and I hope you’ll go and enjoy it because you’re in for a treat.

Future touring dates for Mad, Bad and Downright Ugly, including appearances at The Bierkeller and The Alma Tavern in Bristol, can be found at:

*** (3) Stars
Review by Jenni Waugh