By Jonathan Bate (with a bit of help from William Shakespeare)
Directed by Tom Cairns
Venue: Trafalgar Studios 1
Date: Saturday 17th March 2012
The set consisted of a square platform with one step along the front and side, placed at an angle to the front of the stage. Four plain wooden chairs were stacked against the dark right-hand wall. The light-coloured wall on the left had two windows high up, and there was another light-coloured part wall behind the platform. Two trees emerged from the darkness at the back of the stage towards the end of the first half, and were replaced by two more trees during the interval; these encroached further forward. The platform held various props – sword, paper crown, globe, cap, books, small mobile with figures dangling from it, etc. – as well as having two trapdoors, one of which provided flames for the early Mark Antony speech from Julius Caesar – “Friends, Romans” – and another occasion later on. There was a sweep of dark marbly bits to the left of the platform – a slight nuisance, as they kept tracking across whenever Simon Callow walked on them – but otherwise the stage seemed bare from our angle.
The play was very interesting and entertaining. Using Shakespeare’s Seven Ages Of Man speech – spoken by Jacques in As You Like It – Jonathan Bate has devised this ramble through Shakespeare’s work and what we know about the historical context in which it was written, both political and personal. Simon Callow delivered it all very well, although at times the lecturing style of the author shone through; not a bad thing, but less dramatic than some other parts of the afternoon. I recognised many of the readings, of course, but there was a lot of newer information as well, and the overall framework made it more easily digestible. Things went a little wobbly around the ‘soldier’ part, with the lack of evidence about Will’s life making it harder to stick to the speech, but with an actor of Simon Callow’s talent we were in safe hands. His delivery was very good, and my only quibble was that he had so little time to set up the speeches that I wasn’t able to make as strong an emotional connection as I would have liked. Still, the purpose of the piece was to take us on the lifetime journey, and that it did very well.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me