Tuesday, 3 April 2018

REVIEW: Will or Eight Lost Years of Young William Shakespeare's Life at the Rose Playhouse on Bankside

The archeological remains of the Rose theatre were found in 1989 and ever since then the campaign to preserve the site, secure a long term lease and build a new theatre while permanently protecting the remains has continued. The venue feels like an archeological site with the remains stretched out in the basement of a new office block and the "current theatre" shoe horned onto the wooden viewing platform. The two elements are connected by the white and red LED lights that map out the original footprint of the site.

The Rose Theatre was originally built in 1587, and so there can be no better subject to set in this space than a story speculating on what Shakespeare did between 1585 (the date his son Hamnet was born) and 1592 (when he appears in records in London) his so called lost years. Written and directed by Victoria Baumgartner (who has an MA in Shakespearean studies) in Lausanne, Switzerland in French, she directs this young English cast in this unique apposite setting but plays loose with dates and muses on the influences that created the writer he became. The result is a fanciful but cleverly weaves in references to his later more famous titles including the Midsummer Night Dream mechanicals play, the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet's gravedigger.

The overall effect is a series of short sketches of imagined incidents in Shakespeare's life with his wife Anne, Richard Burbage (his actor friend) and his fictional sister Olivia, a supposed love affair with the Earl of Southampton and a duel with fellow author Christopher Marlowe. They are interspersed with some modern balletic choreography at odds with the setting, the meaning of which was at times unfathomable. Performed without any props except a wooden box (a wooden O shape might have been better!) and a nightlight to represent his babies.

The cast throw themselves into the show with energy and belief and engage the audience frequently with delightful asides, almost making them part of the action. Sam Veck is an intense troubled Shakespeare struggling with the uncertainty of his future. Ronnie Yorke makes a swaggering self assured Richard Burbage, one the actors of the age. They are matched by Katherine Moran and Beatrice Lawrence as Anne and Olivia respectively, lamenting the secondary
roles women of the time played. Charlie Woodward plays the other roles most notably as the Earl of Southampton. 

If you have not been to the site of The Rose Theatre or are a Shakespeare aficionado, then it is worth making the effort to see this fresh unusual offering but I found the setting and play structure unsatisfactory and despite the best efforts of the cast found it a long 75 minutes.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★

Seat: unreserved | Price of ticket: £17
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