How much do we really know about William Shakespeare, the legendary playwright who penned Hamlet to King Lear, Macbeth to Romeo and Juliet. In a new one man play, written by Jonathan Bate, Simon Callow delves into the life of Stratford’s most famous export.
The narrative begins with the birth of Shakespeare and follows his life, from his early years in school where he honed his skill for writing, to when he moved to London and wrote his first full-length plays. It follows the opening of the Globe theatre, to his ultimately demise, alone back in the town where he was born.
Callow acts as the storyteller of Shakespeare’s life and the script is interwoven with some of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes from some of the most well known plays. This means that there is a lot of familiarity about the play and helps to settle the audience into the story. There are anecdotes which many in the audience will recognise from their own lives - especially the ones from our younger days. This humanises the story and makes us think that Shakespeare may have actually been an ordinary man with an ordinary life.
Humour is used throughout the play to ease some of the tension and to bring us into the life of the man behind the stories. Many of these jokes are well written – one about Shakespeare being married at 18 (a very young age to be married in Elizabethan times) had me laughing out loud for all to hear.
A lot of fuss has been made about actor Callow being cast in the role but Callow delivers in this 90-minute one man show, which is a big ask for anybody. There are times where he forgets the exact line or fumbles some of the words, but he is consistently good throughout – particularly during some of the Shakespearian quotes. There are flashes of pure genius at times.
The play does suffer from being long and a lack of other actors on the stage does hinder the pace of the show. The historical aspects are very well researched, and the script is adequately written.
If you are looking for a story behind the man with some funny lines and a good display of acting then this is for you. If you are a fan of Shakespeare’s work and are looking for some high quality writing then it may be better to go and see an actual production of one of his plays.
They say that saying the name of one of the characters from one of Shakespeare’s plays in the theatre is bad luck. After watching Callow repeat this word on the stage of the Playhouse last night, I wouldn’t be too surprised if that’s what other reviews will be saying after seeing this production.
- David Jack