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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Sheldrake on Shakespeare : Live!

James Sheldrake

Genre: New Writing, Stand-Up

Venue: Paradise In The Vault


Low Down

Fifty minute urbane, droll monologue from a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject and an ability to amuse, inform and engage with his audience.


To most people Shakespeare is a bit of a myth, a turn-off even.  Inaccessible, irrelevant in our sound-bite based world and patently non-PC given the antisemitism, misogyny and infanticide present in some of his texts.  Perhaps that’s what has put the punters off Sheldrake on Shakespeare : Live!, James Sheldrake’s engaging attempt to show the Bard in a friendlier, 21st century light in this engaging fifty minute discourse, more stand-up comedy gig than lecture.   Or perhaps it’s just that Shakespeare stand-up comedy is a rather niche Fringe segment, nerdy even.

Well, to all those who didn’t make it down to the Paradise Vault, you missed a real gem.  This show had content and lots of it as Sheldrake shared his informative, insightful thoughts on which of Shakespeare’s many characters he would invite to a fantasy dinner party.  And our party host is to be Keith Floyd, that 70’s/80’s doyen of celebrity chefs, he of perhaps a little too much fondness for “a quick slurp”, as he often remarked on his popular TV series.

Cue a fifty minute urbane, droll monologue from a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject with an ability to amuse, inform and, above all, engage with his audience.  Granted, we were few in number but that made his performance all the more intimate, more like a conversation although, given that Sheldrake seemed to be able to talk without drawing breath for minutes at a time, our involvement was confined to nods, murmurs and frequent laughter.

Sheldrake also has the uncanny ability to reduce the complex to something simple and memorable, a classic example of which was his explanation of the rather complex plot of As You Like It, something that normally takes the average punter like me about five minutes to outline but which he simply described as “a theatrical lasagne”.  Brilliant!  Think about it.  It’s very clever and very apt.

That’s Sheldrake’s style – informative, funny and very, very dry with an excellent sense of comic timing.  He’s someone who can make the apparently dull seem very amusing and, in that process, you end up absorbing rather more than you thought possible about the subject in hand.

Perhaps this is a by-product of Sheldrake’s years of teaching experience, a profession he’s now leaving as he turns to performing, writing and, specifically, comedy for a career.  On the basis of his debut at this year’s Fringe, he’s got plenty to offer his future audiences.  The teaching profession’s loss is very much the entertainment industry’s gain.