Antonio! @ theSpace, Surgeons Hall

Butch Mermaid's Antonio! celebrates queerness, Shakespeare, and rock music

Review by Isabella Thompson | 14 Aug 2023
  • Antonio

The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Twelfth Night and Two Gentlemen of Verona: these Shakespeare plays all star an ‘Antonio’. But were you aware that behind this vast array of characters lies a scandalous truth? That the one real Antonio was Shakespeare’s queer lover? Well, thanks to Antonio!, now you know. This miniature rock opera tells the story of Antonio’s many flings as he travels around the world with his band Fools For Love.

Five cast members narrate Antonio’s story, taking it in turns to playfully tease him. It is a clever mechanism to use in a small space and is befitting of the rock opera genre. The music is head-banging and creates a concert-like atmosphere that maintains high levels of energy in the room. The show is a campy celebration of queerness, captured most effectively in the song Boy’s Boy, which is a total smash hit. Their extravagant dispositions and exaggerated performances are a joy to watch, and help to maintain momentum throughout the show; their visceral energy can be felt all the way in the back row. The cast should be commended for how committed they are—I have never seen a tambourine played with such vigour and vim.

The most noteworthy points in the performance were the upbeat rock numbers, with some of the ballads creating a dip in the otherwise fantastic energy. This would easily be amended with the addition of further choreography. Nevertheless, William Duignan as Antonio demonstrates impressive vocal agility and crowdwork, oozing charisma. 

The high-concept storyline has its roots in Shakespeare’s play-texts, which effectively grounds the piece. The cast cleverly weave in Shakespearean verse amongst the otherwise outlandish contemporary dialogue, which provides a poetic quality to the performance. The ending, however, does not serve the writing as well, feeling premature and unresolved. The show has the potential to achieve a more meritorious climax with a stronger plot point in its finale, but overall, Antonio! is a joyous piece of theatre that will delight Shakespeare and rock fans alike. 

Antonio!, theSpace @ Surgeon's Hall (Stephenson Theatre), 16, 18, 20, 23 and 25 Aug, 5pm, £10-12