One Fell Swoop Unlocked project, ‘The Merchant of Venice’

13 August, 2021

After what feels like one hundred years, on Friday 6th I finally got to sit in the audience of a real-life performance and watch the magic of theatre come to life.

It seemed fitting to start with a ‘One Fell Swoop Unlocked’ Shakespeare production, co-produced by Conor Baum and featuring two ICTheatre graduates, Rachel Mullock and Lexi Pickett..

The One Fell Swoop Project was born in 2020, with actors coming together over zoom to entertain audiences with Shakespeare productions.

They then brought these productions to life during the summer when restrictions eased and live performance became possible again.

One year later,  with restrictions once again on their way out, the micro-festival has returned for a six-week run of their Shakespeare productions at St Anne’s Well Garden in Hove.

Last year the company managed to raise £1148 for charity Fare Share, a food distribution charity operating in and around Brighton and Hove.

They’re hoping to raise even more this year to enable the company to pay their actors above the living wage and raise funds to bring the micro-festival back for many years to come.

Each production comes with a twist. The cast only discovers which Shakespeare classic they are performing a day before doors are due to open, meaning they have 24 hours to explore their characters and rehearse their performance before audiences take their seats.

A challenge by anyone’s standards, but an element that adds to the explorative feel of the productions and makes them feel more magical.

The audience also doesn’t know what production they will be seeing until right before the metaphorical curtains are lifted, further adding to the element of mystery.

After enjoying a production of The Merchant of Venice on Friday evening, I can safely say it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed.

The only hint that the production wasn’t one that had been rehearsed for weeks in a studio, were the scripts the actors held in hand throughout the performance. Otherwise, the cast presented a simple yet clever production that had me following the plot the whole way.

The joy of the production comes from its simplicity. The lack of a fussy set and overly rehearsed staging meant I could focus on the actors; the story they were telling and the emotions they were conveying.

The short time frame of preparation gave the performance a touch of naturalism, in a way it brought genuine reactions and emotions that may have been otherwise lost in the repetition of rehearsal.

The addition of live music was another unexpected delight, the violins were beautiful and set off our scenic theatre space. The choral singing at the end created a sharp contrast to the figure of Shylock, alone and staggering her way through the assembled cast.

There is something to be said for a production that is delivered outdoors. What is lacking in technicalities such as lighting, microphones or fancy soundscapes, is made up for by a luscious green backdrop and the light of sunset.

The cast were battling a true English summer. Wind buffeted harshly throughout the show and for a brief five minutes, the heavens decided to open upon us, yet no-one on stage batted an eyelid.

10 minutes later as the show reached its cheerful conclusion, the cast were rewarded with a golden hour glow that set the moment off beautifully.

The entire cast were wonderful, their connection as a team gave the show the fluidity that was needed from a production that was rehearsed in 24 hours.

Two members of this cast were ICTheatre graduates Rachel Mullock and Lexi Pickett, I think it’s safe to say they did the ICTheatre name proud.

Rachel has an affinity to classical texts, she suited the role of Portia down to the ground. She delivered every twist of the story without missing a step, always switched on and always reacting to the action from her cast-mates.

I found my eyes were often drawn to Rachel when she was on stage as she performed with elegance and wit to match.

Lexi’s rich and silky voice is also one well-suited to Shakespeare. From her first entrance she drew us in with her storytelling, assuring the audience that her plight is real and her joy contagious.

She also presented us with some charmingly genuine moments of connection between herself and husband Lorenzo; even in moments when the pair were not the centre focus of action, I was drawn to the warmth and happiness they shared.

I got to ask Rachel and Lexi briefly about their One Fell Swoop experience after the show.

Rachel told me

“It has been the most amazing experience. Not only am I performing with an amazing cast of actors with all different backgrounds and experiences, but it has been a new and exciting challenge for me as a performer.”

And from Lexi

“One Fell Swoop is a whirlwind. The speed and intensity by which we work can often be hard to keep up with, but after that first show you realise what a thrill it is and how much fun it can be”.

“Despite some of the obscenely quick changes when you’re playing four characters at a time. I took part last year and was one of the original on-zoom members.

Taking it to the public was incredibly rewarding and it was the highlight of my year.”.

I also asked what it’s like creating a show in 24 hours; what they have enjoyed, and what they have learned.

From Rachel.

“The most exciting part about creating a new show in 24 hours is the quick nature of making choices and rolling with it.”

“It doesn’t give you time to over-think, and it stops your performance from becoming stale. The main thing I’ve learnt is just letting go. Usually with Shakespeare productions, you spend weeks just looking at the meaning of everything, but with this, you have to follow your gut instinct.”

For Lexi, her favourite part and lesson go hand in hand with each other.

“The most exciting part is having to make bold and quick choices in an instant. My takeaway is that it’s only a mistake if you let it be. Let go and free yourselves from the constraints of trying to be perfect.”

Thank you to Lexi and Rachel for speaking with me about this wonderful project, and to the whole cast of The Merchant of Venice for presenting such a magnificent performance.

It was a joy to watch. The company has three weeks of productions left, so if you want to go and enjoy some of the magic you can find tickets here.



Author: Charley Morgan, ICTheatre Graduate 2020

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