SHAKESPEARE, HIS WIFE AND THE DOG: by Philip Whitchurch
Birmingham Rep: The Door, to 23rd November 2016 and Touring
Runs: 1 hour, no interval.
BO: 0121 236 4455
Review Nigel Bellingham, 21/11/2016
The course of true love never did run smooth
It is difficult to argue that any writer has had more impact on the English language than William Shakespeare, and yet, frustratingly, we know little about the man behind the words. In this warm, witty play Philip Whitchurch attempts to shade in some of the gaps.
We encounter Shakespeare, ably played by Whitchurch himself, on the last night of his life. His wife Anne (Sally Edwards) is steadily losing her memory, and as the night draws on they spend time pondering their married life together. Over the course of the evening Shakespeare re-enacts some of his most famous speeches and scenes, whilst Anne does a fantastic impersonation of her husband as they recall a dialogue between Shakespeare and the famous comic actor Will Kemp.
Anne and Will, as she affectionately calls her husband, have a tempestuous relationship with their exchanges frequently shifting from the comic to the tragic in a matter of moments, and this not only makes for compelling theatre but also shows how skilled Edwards and Whittaker are as performers.
I found myself chuckling as Shakespeare impersonated some of his fellow actors, but also then moved by his sudden realisation that the theatrical establishment he’s been a part of is moving on without him.
This is not just Shakespeare’s story though; Anne is just as much a part of the action. She compares the relationship that she has with her husband to that of Benedict and Beatrice’s in Much Ado About Nothing, and their intellectual jousting does have a definite resemblance to Shakespeare’s quarrelsome lovers. Indeed, by the end of the play Anne has been cast as a reluctant collaborator in the creation of Shakespeare’s work. She frequently questions her husband’s use of a particular word or phrase in one of his plays, and he is often embarrassed by her extensive knowledge of the mysterious lovers that appear in some of his more colourful sonnets.
Although we can never truly know what Shakespeare was like Whitchurch’s interpretation is as good as any, and Shakespeare enthusiasts will find that this is an hour well spent. The play may be slightly too cerebral at times, but the strong connection between the two actors onstage ensures that even if you don’t understand all of the literary references you will still have an enjoyable evening.
Anne: Sally Edwards
Will Shakespeare: Philip Whitchurch
Director: Julia St John
Movement: Shona Morris
Designer: Aline Jeffrey