Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: Antonio!, Butch Mermaid, EdFringe 2023 ★★★★☆

There’s something to be said for sheer joy in the words ‘queer pop punk pirate musical’. Add a dash of critical Shakespeare in there and you’re onto something deeply intriguing, with a lot going on. From head to tail Antonio! whoops you with its’ cheekily self-aware brand of humour, kick-ass live music, and pure queer joy. Imagining Shakespeare took the name for his characters called Antonio across multiple plays from a secret vagabond lover, Butch Mermaid take to the high seas to flitter between the fictions of the bard and a new story for the buccaneer who comes to play many parts. With gusto, guts, and groove, they deliver a gleeful deconstruction of love and lust.

Joviality begins the minute you step into the room, where the band have already lurched into life singing with mirth and poking fun at one another. After a while we are introduced to hero of the story and soon-to-be Captain of the Ship Antonio. The band of merry pirates declare their principles of loving whoever they like, with ethos abound they tell the tale of their captain – a misunderstood and maligned character only embodied in cruel representations by a jaded ex-lover, of course, Shakespeare himself. Travelling to Venice, to Castille, Illyria, and London, Antonio weaves in and out of the narratives of the bard’s plays and new stories that fill in the gaps.

From a slow, sexy duet with first love and sugar baby Bassanio from the Merchant of Venice to heavy rock ballads that pop and fizz with wit and audience interaction. The performance dallies between satire and steadfast literature critique, but never loses the audience’s attention with cheeky side jabs at capitalism, heteronormative narratives, and queer-baiting. The musical tone sticks firmly within the pop-rock genre, and is all performed in a gig-theatre styling with some of the scenes simply feeling like dramatic interludes between the story moments which usually find their rise during the songs. Fans of Tenacious D and Axis of Awesome will feel right at home with the register of this piece, that finds it’s groove in joyful musical exploration.

Performances from the ensemble are magnetic, each having their moment to shine as they in turn portray the different lovers of Antonio and the woes of dating, which reflects both onto the Shakespearean works they critique and an world oddly reminiscent of modern dating. Antonio is a ridiculously over-the-top character, and all of the performances provide a new impression on his forming identity and tumultuous lovelife. The queer expression in this piece is just divinely exuberant, with the characters blending motifs of sugar daddies, kink, and fluid costumes that just wrap you up in the gay pirate spirit. It seems endlessly ambitious to mix your own stories with ones such revered as Shakespeare’s works, and the cast certainly hold no punches on lampooning representation of love, hate, jealousy, and spite in the story of the amalgamated Antonio character.

The feeling of raw energy and delight in the room at the funky riffs, foot-stomping melodies and hysterical fourth-wall shattering moments bring us right into the heart of the silliness. There is a stunning sense of community and comfort built in the room that lets you relax into their warm arms and enjoy the wacky corners of their examination of a troubled character in the life of a troublesome playwright. The composite result of the wild humour, funky tunes, and character-driven queer silliness is just pure magic to watch unfold.

One issue that the piece suffers in this iteration is the stage space they have to work around is far too small to facilitate large scale movement. They overcome this by working around each other and with each other, in blissful camaraderie, to still create something that is as buoyantly energetic as its’ soundtrack. The control of space works, but it does lend a little too much of a static element at times, and I’d love to see a version on a larger stage. It feels more a piece of gig theatre than a musical, though this genre-dabbling is rescued by the story moments being embedded and intertwined with the music.

Pure queer joy – expressed with energy, comfort, and delight that brings you right into the story. The music is foot-stompingly good, and you’ll be with the silliness of it all right up to the end.

Recommended Drink: Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum.

Catch Antonio! every other day at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall – Stephenson Theatre, from August 9th till the 25th at 17:00. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2023), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023-24), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them
Contact: jake@bingefringe.com