10:36 | 19th February 2019

Reviews: Live Shows

Mon 27 Jun, 2011
By Robert Ingham

Callow is mesmerising, resounding and full of conviction

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Being Shakespeare - Theatre Review

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I’ve never enjoyed Shakespeare. Not completely. All those sentences and couplets I couldn't understand, with the exception of “Anthony & Cleopatra” which I studied for GCSE, and with awful productions (Romeo & Juliet at the Globe and a touring version of Taming Of The Shrew to mention just two), the mere mention of the word Shakespeare penetrates to the core. Call it ignorance or just impatience, but I know I’m not alone in my thinking.

So it was with met with intrepidation when I was offered the opportunity to see Simon Callow in “Being Shakespeare”. Not knowing what to expect, I walked into Trafalgar Studios and was greeted with perhaps one of the sparsest sets I’ve ever seen. A big block of wood, two steps carved into the front, a baby’s mobile, and a collection of stacked chairs to one side.

Lights go down and Simon Callow enters. His one-man show begins. And what we are presented with are two 45 minute acts about the life of Shakespeare. Told in seven “ages”, we are transported from the moment William is born, through his childhood, his adulthood and to his death. And it is fascinating. Callow is mesmerising, resounding and full of conviction, quoting numerous plays, ranging from Romeo & Juliet (“what light through yonder window breaks?” and “where for art thou Romeo?”) to Henry V (“once more unto the breach”) and Troilus & Cressida (“was this the face that launched a thousand ships?”) - and for once I can understand exactly what the prose means, such is Callow’s command of the subject. He speaks carefully, pronouncing every syllable as if reading to a child at Christmas, without ever being patronising. You can tell how much he relishes every sentence, bringing to life dozens of characters with vivid imagination and voice.

However, it's not all about Simon Callow. This excellent production is wonderfully written by Jonathan Bate, an expert on Shakespeare, and it is this heavenly match between Bate and Callow that makes this show a stand-out. Mix in Tom Cairns playful direction and a simple but effective set (complete with a couple of unexpected trees), and the stage is set for an evening to be thoroughly enjoyed by all ages, from the un-initiated to those who have mastered the Bard’s language.

I strongly recommend “Being Shakespeare” to everyone. It is comical, compelling, informative, dramatic and striking; everything you expect from a production. High praise indeed to all those involved.

“Being Shakespeare” is at Trafalgar Studios until 23rd July.


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