What a delight!
The charismatic Simon Callow's one-man show Shakespeare: The Man From Stratford is an enchanting treatise combining biography, history and quotation.
Structured around Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man, Callow takes us in beloved son of the Stratford glove maker through theatre stable lad and extra to the renowned, rich playwright buried ignobly in a Midlands churchyard.
With little more than a few books, a fire, wooden sword, toy dog and soldiers, Callow illustrates the life and times of Tudor and Stewart England, its politics and everyday minutiae linking them with the man and his writings. Polonius, Mark Anthony, King Lear, Juliet, Macbeth, Malvolio, Hamlet and others all make their appearance.
The collaboration between writer Jonathan Bate, a respected Shakespeare biographer and Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick, and Callow (Postcards From the Edge, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bob the Butler) is fascinating and absorbing.
What could have been little more than a lecture pitched at either the masses or the scholar, is instead, under the tight directorship of Tom Cairns, a surprisingly intimate, accessible-to-all, romp through the 52 years of The Bard's life.
Rumours are scotched (Shakespeare was not a Catholic deer poacher but instead an ordinary middle class former grammar school pupil) and urban myths allayed (Bacon died in 1604 by which time only half of Shakespeare's plays were penned so rather unlikely to have been the writer).
Connections are made - subject to litigation on more than one occasion, Shakespeare was hardly enamored of lawyers ('let's kill all the lawyers'); he would have seen the Press Gangs bully to bolster the militia ('I have misusd the king's press damnably')... - and two hours fly past leaving the audience entertained and educated and wanting more.
A rare combination.