by Jonathan Bate.
Trafalgar Studios (Studio 1) 14 Whitehall SW1A 2DY To 23 July 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu, Sat & 29 June 2.30pm no performance 28 June.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7627.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 June.
Fine-spoken highlights but the man remains in shadow.
Following Dickens, Simon Callow turns to Shakespeare for another full-length, one-man show. Yet these writers are very different, even if their works share the dust on many domestic bookshelves. Dickens goes full-throatedly for things, grips them by the neck and shakes them avidly for humour or pathos. Shakespeare stands back, his views – like much of his life – unrevealed.
Publicity outside Trafalgar Studios eccentrically lists Two Gentlemen of Verona and Titus Andronicus (neither mentioned in the script), among Shakespeare’s “greatest plays”, while excluding the finer As You Like It and Winter’s Tale, not to mention the magnificent Henry IV pair – all included in the performance, the first two in the opening minutes.
Indeed, Jonathan Bate builds his play – or lecture-recital – around As You Like It’s ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech. Lively and stimulating as this scholar’s books are, this isn’t the first time he’s sectioned Shakespeare into thematic areas superimposed with chronology.
So, death comes with the last age, naturally enough. Unfortunately, Shakespeare’s last plays are about renewal, and children found – even Prospero, the dramatist’s oft-presumed spokesperson on retirement matters, only expects to devote one-third of his mind to death. So this section switches-back to King Lear, already mentioned in another connection, and Measure for Measure, written some seven active years earlier.
There are major omissions. It’s mentioned Shakespeare’s father was 33 when the playwright was born, which puts John Shakespeare’s birth around 1531, making him a child of the fervent Reformation years. Many think the Shakespeares were Catholics, while Michael Wood’s biography traces England’s change from a nation deeply influenced by Catholicism to a Protestant country during William’s life.
It’s a big matter, if only as a possible reason for Shakespeare’s reserve over his opinions. Yet it’s not mentioned in what is, from this scholarly author, a soft-focused guide to Shakespeare’s best bits.
As such, and in Callow’s mellow voice, it has its audience in the heart of tourist London. But occasional glimpses of Shakespeare’s education and the way life and literature were transmuted into “eternal lines” suggest how much more of a story there is to tell.
Performer: Simon Callow.
Director: Tom Cairns.
Lighting: Bruno Poet.
Sound/Music: Ben and Max Ringham.
Associate lighting: Davd Sadler.
Associate sound: Avgoustos Psillas for Autograph.