ANTONIO! - EDINBRUGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2023
The Space, Surgeon’s Hall
Butch Mermaid Productions present a 45-minute gig style musical, “Antonio!” This is queer joy, gender euphoria, and a reclaiming of classic Shakespeare. Antonio is a character that pops up in many of Shakespeare’s plays. Think about it – and “Antonio!” asks what if The Bard wasn’t just reusing a character name, but was instead inspired by one hopelessly romantic looking for love in all the wrong places? “Antonio!” is a queer pirate musical that reframes - and reclaims! - iconic characters from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, and “Merchant of Venice”. We move swiftly from London, Venice, Illyria, Verona; through multiple Shakespearean references, musical styles and eras all in a quest for love. Antonio is a sailor, then a pirate and Shakespeare just can’t get enough of him!
The story is told by the five-piece outfit, Fools for Love. The show is written by creative team Ania Upstill (also the director) and William Duignan. The company is a melting pot of accents. I loved hearing the heavy NZ twang in a context where the sound of that accent wasn’t the joke! The multi-talented cast of five play guitar, keyboard, tambourine, and sing: Andy Manning, Ania Upstill, Evan Michael Smith, Felix Crossley-Pritchard, and moustachioed William Duignan as our heart-sick lover.
The lyric writing is mostly clever with an occasional wincing rhyme but the music composition is catchy and soon have us singing along. Memorable amongst the song list is Don Pedro’s - from “Much Ado About Nothing” - “I’m a Prince, So I Always Get What I Want”. You don’t have to be a Shakespeare nerd to get all the references and it’s a love of the source material that gives clout to this off-beat creation.
The staging in the tiny hot-box of a venue is super-minimal. The band is on a riser at one end of the room. The sound delivery is all over the place but the no-one minds. The entire event has the air of a breakout party in mum and dad’s garage. Look, we made a show! Big sound, big voices, and big hearts! Butch Mermaid believes that representation matters - you can’t be what you can’t see. “Antonio!” extols a commitment to putting positive queer and trans stories on the stage. In their blurb they state: “We make art that celebrates the beauty of embracing your authentic self because visible joy is a political act in the struggle for equality.”
The infectious energy of this improbable troupe will have you cheering for Antonio as he “sets the story straight” (so to speak!). “Antonio!” is a salty tale and much needed validation for all those tossed on life’s high-seas.