Blackadder II: Live!
Richard Curtis and Ben Elton
Originally produced by the BBC
Asst. Director/Dialect Coach
Nadia de Lemeny
Luke J Sutherland
Lord Edmund Blackadder
Queen Elizabeth I
Michael Steven Costello
Flashheart, Prince Ludwig, Arthur the Sailor, Simon Partridge
Lady Whiteadder, Mrs. Ploppy, Wisewoman
Lady Farrow, Mrs. Pants, Young Crone
Nadia de Lemeny
Balladeer, Mad Beggar, Geoffrey Piddle, Messenger, German Guard
Sir Walter Raleigh, Torturer, Mr. Pants
Terrance P Haddad
Capt. Redbeard Rum, Lord Whiteadder, Leonardo Acropolis, German Guard
Bishop of Bath & Wells, Gaoler Ploppy, Dr. Leech, Monk
Now, I have been reviewing several musicals up until this point, so I decided to check out some plays, which I can say is a bit more of a challenge. I managed to catch both part of one and two of Theatre on Fire’s production of Blackadder II Live, a stage adaptation of BBC’s classic comedy of the same name. The show itself focused particularly on the 2nd season of the series, which is considered one of the best by many fans. Originally conceived by Ben Elton and Richard Curtis, the show debuted and helped fuel the careers of some of the most talented comedians including Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, a man who would later star in the series as the title character in House. Blackadder examines the life of one Edmund Blackadder and his journeys and misadventures through various time periods in British and European history. The one we saw was his time during Elizabethan England. Full of sharp wit, dry humor and tremendous wordplay, the series became one of the most popular television series of all time.
The show is broken up in episodes from the series, three as part one and the last three in part two. Whether Blackadder finds himself attracted to his cross-dressing manservant Bob, who is in fact a young woman to juggling a party with his uptight religious relatives and his own rambunctious alcohol-filled party with his loud and crazy friends, he manages to hatch the most ridiculous schemes and ideas to keep himself and his sanity intact. Each episode’s premise is more ridiculous then the last and we as the audience tune in intently.
The cast is full of such comedic energy, and is both wonderful and talented, pulling off the dry humor and silliness, whilst capturing each of their characters in their own way. They have worked diligently on their British accents as well with the help of Dialect Coach Nadia de Lemeny, helping fuel the performance. Craig Houk stars as the pompous and ridiculous Edmund Blackadder, who seems very comfortable in the role itself, and manages to capture the arrogance and charm of the character incredibly well. His charisma is one thing to lock on to and he has it in spades. Another strong performance is that of Jason Beals, who pulls of many characters including a loud and obnoxious Flashheart and the treacherous German prince Ludwig. Each depiction is strongly established and his commitment is uncanny. It’s a great joy to watch and we can’t help but squeal with laughter. Michael Steven Costello plays Lord Melchett or “Melchy” as dry and droll as possible with a bit of a silly side. His seriousness and sternness is only matched by his comedic timing with the role and his jokes. All in all the cast itself is incredibly talented and establish some of the best chemistry I have seen on stage. They manage to commit to each of their characters and to each other in this world. The razor banter and wit of the original series come through as this cast is clearly having a great time with the material.
Eric Propps’ costumes are simply wonderful. Not only does he manage to capture the Elizabethan period magnificently, but also he dresses the cast in costumes perfectly. Each actor doesn’t look constrained and are clearly one with their outfit, giving more to their character. I thought they were conceived very well and you could tell a lot of love and effort were put into their creation. Bravo to Mr. Propps. The costumes looked genuine and are incredibly detailed.
The set itself is simple and the stage has 5 different areas that the characters interact on. Whether we are looking straight ahead on 3 areas on stage or the house left or right, we are thrust into this world in such an intimate space. Luke Sutherland’s set captures each area perfectly and thanks to the effective lighting design of Eric Jacobsen, we are able to see each area for each scene. Whether we are in house of Blackadder or the Queen’s throne room, we get to see a simple and effective set create this world. One set that was particularly impressive was in one “episode” where Blackadder, his friend Percy, servant Baldrick and Captain Redbeard Rum are upon a ship, due to Blackadder’s attempt to travel the unknown (thanks to a large part to his pride and short-sightedness). The four in are sitting a small cabin that wonderfully creates a sense of claustrophobia, which was in a small open room above the entrance of the theatre space.
As mentioned before, the show is literally a staging of the 2nd season of Blackadder. With a few minor changes, including adding a balladeer to transition each scene with cheesy recorder music or each episode with some cheeky exposition, the show is pretty much word for word. A lot of time was put into the study of the original work it seems. Also, in many ways its nice to see such a popular show done in such a unique way but its hard to get past the original depictions and writing from the series. Emulation is a hard to avoid in such a production and at a few points, bits of the television series crept through which made it difficult to get on board with the stage show. Darren Evan’s directorial choice to have each scene on various areas in the space worked in many ways, having the actors move to and from each place. He effectively used the entire area of the theatre itself. It also seemed that he gave actors free range with their characters to create their own depictions while using the originals as a launching point. It was a good attempt to avoid repetition and imitation. He manages to create the world of Blackadder on stage in order to familiarize the masses and broaden their horizons, really showing that they’ve been missing out.
Blackadder II Live has some of the most talented comedic actors in Boston sharing the stage. Moving past the fact that the show itself is recreation of a TV series, the work and effort put in is remarkable and there is no denying that everyone had a great time hamming it up. Capturing silliness and true appreciation for the original work, Blackadder II Live puts on a fun evening of incredible humor and ridiculousness that all audiences have enjoyed.