Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Focussing on the ‘fair youth’ sonnets, this play explores two mirrored relationships: one between Shakespeare and Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton between 1593-1596, the other a lecturer and a student in the present day. The result is an inventive and creative take on a body of Shakespeare’s work that has received less attention in creating drama.
‘Everything is conjecture except the words’.
Using a couple of dozen of the 154 sonnets Shakespeare wrote, this play explores two mirrored relationships: between Shakespeare and Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton between 1593-1596 and a lecturer and a student in the present day.
Sebastian Michael, the writer (and one of the performers in this two hander), was inspired by a friend who decided to post all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets on Facebook in the run up to Christmas last year. As the days passed he began to see narrative threads running through them. The resultant new play aims to explore the possible reasons why William Shakespeare came to write these sonnets and what they reveal about his hotly debated relationship with his patron. This relationship is mirrored in the modern day with a university lecturer and his student as they look back to the period between 1593-1596.
Michael plays Shakespeare and the lecturer with Tom Medcalf as Wriosthley and the student. The stage is bare with only two large blocks as set that the two actors use as a platform, bed and viewpoint.
The starting point is the lecturer delivering a paper only to be challenged by the student. They then delve into the past, to when Shakespeare has just gushingly dedicated his first publishing success, the narrative poem Venus & Adonis, to the young, arrogant and extremely wealthy Earl of Southampton.
The writing moves seamlessly between dialogue and sonnet – most are included in full and given to one character but a few are delivered as dialogue between the two. Both actors are skilled in handling the language and creating a thoroughly believable sense of the sonnets as conversational. The core narrative is clear as both the 16th and 21st century pairs deal with the attraction for each other that they are feeling. It is also a textually dense piece and it is to the credit of the writer, actors and director that the two stories come across both clearly and as interlinked.
The production makes good use of lighting to delineate the historical and modern periods. However, it does feel like a big stage for the piece. A greater use of lighting to delineate spaces as well as time would enable the actors to take more control of the space and use it to their dramatic ends rather than being dominated by it.
Overall, it is a must for any lover of Shakespeare’s language. It is an inventive and creative take on a body of Shakespeare’s work that has received less attention in creating drama.