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What You Will

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Roger Rees may be well advanced in his seventh decade, but the perennially youthful RSC star of Nicholas Nickleby, who spent two decades with the company, and now lives in New York, is still bouncing around like Tigger, and making a rare London appearance with his very own Shakespeare show.

It's all rather old-fashioned, ill-disciplined and under-produced, more of a cosy chat, really, with anecdotes and speeches of Hamlet and Romeo, gobbets of Dickens and Shaw, even a James Thurber short story about the woman who refused to believe that it was Macbeth whodunnit.

There's also a big white bust of the Bard, some red swagging, piles of books and suitcases. And an explanation of the title in the words of an agent telling his client, "They’ve offered you Twelfth Night, or What You Will; I guess they haven’t made their minds up yet."

And he goes on too long with the passage on the dispiriting blog and internet Shakespeare "conversation": the Bard wrote for boys because there were no women in his time; his verse came out in Islamic pentameters; and he shares a birthday with Roy Orbison and Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber.

But as he proved on his last London visit (two years ago in Waiting for Godot), Rees has lost none of his trademark frantic energy or boundless charm. And we now learn that his dad was a policeman whom he never really knew (fuel to Hamlet’s anger with the Ghost) and that he auditioned for the RSC in 1965 on this self-same stage.

I don’t understand why he’s so coy about naming Wilfred Lawson as the Richard III who turned on the protesting audience with, “If you think I’m pissed, wait till you see Buckingham…” or why, having recounted how his dinner date with Olivier on a film location was interrupted with news of Ralph Richardson’s death, he doesn’t say what happened next: cancellation or a surge of nostalgic affection?

Again, who was the great Shakespearean who played Lear at Bristol as a young man and chewed up his first line… possibly Eric Porter? And who was the actor manager whose wife was abused from the upper circle… perhaps Donald Wolfit? And why would it take too long to explain why Harvey Keitel is one of his favourite actors?

He does come clean on the director who cut his lines as an attendant lord in The Winter’s Tale and told him that he was getting in the way of the plot: Trevor Nunn.

With Ben Kingsley, he then spent four years in the ranks as a silent huntsman and RSC mime artist (admittedly wearing Charles Laughton’s King Lear boots); but of course both he and Kingsley went on to play the greatest role of all. And move on.

- Michael Coveney

Come on our hosted Whatsonstage.com Outing on Thursday 27 September 2012 and get your top-price ticket and access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with Roger Rees - plus a signed poster with each booking - all for the INCREDIBLE price of just £27.50! (Normally £41.85 for ticket alone). Click here for details.


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