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Waiting on Shakespeare, The Courtyard

Michael Harry

Directed by Christopher Jefferies
★★★
Pros: A fun window into the world of Elizabethan acting and its famous historical characters.
Cons: In an attempt to include interesting historical facts and insight, the script was clunky in places, giving the tone of a school history lesson.
Our Verdict: A brilliant homage to the revered Samuel Beckett and his respected Waiting for Godot, as well as to the period and playwright to which we owe much of England’s theatrical gravitas.
Courtesy of English Theatre Company
It is no wonder that Shakespeare has been put in the place of the infamously mysterious no-show, Godot, in this smart take on Beckett’s classic. Having become intimately acquainted with Shakespeare’s characters through seeing 30+ of his plays, there is actually very little known about the man himself. It is thus very fitting that our national playwright is, in this play as in life or history, the mysterious (and – in the play’s context – missing) persona with a massive presence.
We begin in 2013 when our modern day thief, Rosalind (Amy Berry), has managed to bag not only a loot of gold, but also and unbeknownst to her, William Shakespeare’s own diary and, conveniently, Elizabethan garb. After one too many clunks on the head by unwitting characters on the lookout for this thief, Rosalind is transported to 1603.
Lying unconscious on the Globe Stage, she has landed in the middle of a rehearsal of renowned Elizabethan actor and theatre proprietor Richard Burbage (Joshua Tobias Mills) and famous Elizabeth Clown, Will Kemp (Nick Potts). As they rehearse for the biggest gig of their life – an audition for the privilege of the Queen’s patronage of their and William Shakespeare’s theatre company – they simultaneously wait for the great master to grace them with his presence.
As the script tries to give insight in to what actors and acting troupes faced in the period, what their motivations were (money, in case you were wondering) and how theatre and acting styles began to develop into what we know today, the piece did feel slightly too much like a secondary school history lesson for a Thursday night. These moments were balanced however by some hilarious hypotheses of how the actors felt about Shakespeare’s plays and about Shakespeare himself.
As Rosalind comes to and realises her predicament, she presents herself as Robert, eventually taken under Richard and Will’s wing as a female player for their troupe. Quickly dismissed as not believable as a woman, Rosalind sets herself the task of helping them figure out what the troupe should perform for their audition while their leader is not there to guide them.
A suggestion that Richard and Will should strike out on their own and write their own work segues into an opportunity for an improv break in the middle of the piece with suggestions from the audience which prompted much hilarity. This is followed by Rosalind’s attempt to re-write Hamlet, which requires audience involvement (and consequently a cameo by my Mother!). While everyone loves a non-actor being dragged onto the stage against their will and commanded to perform, this does drag the piece on unnecessarily and distracts from the play at hand.
The script is very intelligently crafted with incredibly bright parallels to Waiting for Godot and a lovely inclusion of Puck’s final speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that expertly ties together Rosalind’s original role as a thief and her encounter with Elizabethan life while also nicely explaining away the suspension of disbelief (or any lack there of).
While not for the faint of heart or those too timid to get involved, this is an energetic, fun and smart piece for Shakespeare fans and modernists alike!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Waiting for Shakespeare runs at The Couryard Theatre until 28 July 2013.
Box Office: (0)844 477 1000 or book online at http://www.thecourtyard.org.uk/whatson/325/waiting-on-shakespeare

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