We’re used to thinking of Shakespeare’s main protagonists as heroes and villains, but this intriguing one-man show casts them instead as saints and sinners. And in a thought-provoking twist, performer Tom Peters and co-writer/director Heather Davies play devil’s advocate and seek the saintly in the sinner and the sinful in the saint – with monarchs Richard III and Henry V reversing their usual roles.
It’s not just its theme that makes this more than a straight-forward compilation of extracts from Shakespeare. Peters begins by presenting a wild-eyed, troubled young man, not unlike Hamlet, soliloquising to his audience. But his chosen character is jealous Leontes from The Winter’s Tale, convinced of his wife’s infidelity – and Peters confides that he suspects his own wife is having an affair. Is she saint or sinner – and if his suspicions are unfounded, what does that make him?
In the impressive setting of St Michael’s Church, dating back to medieval times, it makes sense at first to look for answers in the Bible. But Shakespeare himself is said to have stood by the font as godfather at a christening, so our hero turns to him instead, turning the pages of editions of the plays strewn on the floor and grasping at odd pages stuck on the walls.
Peters, a charismatic performer who has played Macbeth, Robin Hood and Christ for Creation Theatre, easily dominates the space alone. Nicely balancing the cerebral with the physical, he makes great use of the church’s space, leaping on a pew to urge on his troops as Henry V, transforming the pulpit first into a horse by sitting astride it, then a chest for Iachimo to hide in to spy on Imogen (from Cymbeline), by climbing inside it.
So he has all the energy needed to dart from speech to speech, and morph into a whole cast of characters, from Hal to Launce the comic servant in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. He does the women too, not just a monologue from Juliet, but a duologue where he is Marina and her father Pericles! And all the while, he nimbly negotiates Shakespeare’s language, effortlessly launching from modern speech into speeches that sound almost as natural and easy. He’s also a gifted guitarist and singer and the well-chosen musical interludes provide a lovely change of texture and pace.
To make the material accessible to all, not just Shakespeare aficionados, Peters and Davies have worked hard to give enough plot to get into each extract. And it does work, for several eight-year-olds in the audience sat transfixed by the storytelling, and laughed uproariously at the antics of Launce the clown.
- Judi Herman