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Being Shakespeare, Trafalgar Studios

Jonathan Bate
Directed by Tom Cairns
Courtesy of the Ambassador Theatre Group
There is always a risk in going to see one man shows as the entire production rests on one person delivering an outstanding performance if the audience are to be kept engaged. Being Shakespeare is also a reasonably long one man show, running for 80 minutes over two acts. Fortunately, Simon Callow, one of Britain’s best loved actors, delivers a very engaging performance which makes it more than bearable. Despite this however, I still wouldn’t class this as a ground-breaking show, and I wouldn’t kill a person to get a ticket.
Jonathan Bate’s script chronologically travels through Shakespeare’s life and works, and although it is written as a modern piece of direct address, is interspersed with snippets of Shakespeare’s dialogue. Based in fact, but also covering much modern thought and speculation about the Bard, it is half historical lecture, half dramatic monologue. It is a clever idea, and undoubtedly people who are interested in Shakespeare will find it extremely thought-provoking. That being said, I found it more like watching a colourfully delivered lecture than I did a piece of theatre. This is not a criticism by any means – that is the nature of the piece after all – but you would be wrong if you were expecting a traditional theatrical performance.
Simon Callow’s performance is very good, and he does succeed in bringing the piece to life. A particularly successful moment came when he delivered the famous scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Bottom and the players are introduced to their roles in Pyramus and Thisbe. Callow hits all the right notes and his performance is funny, dark, emotional and of course extremely ‘luvvie-like’ in places. Technically, Callow is also incredibly impressive; he does perform solo for nearly an hour and a half, which is no small feat! That being said I wasn’t completely blown away by it, and I did find my mind wandering elsewhere on more than one occasion (much like I did during my university lectures!).
Another very good point about this production is Bruno Poet’s lighting design which is one of the best one man show lighting designs I have seen. It is simple and it never upstages Callow, merely complementing his performance throughout the show. Additionally, there are some great technical effects; again, they are not ground-breaking, but the stream of sand pouring from the rafters onto the stage did look almost mystical in its beauty.
Being Shakespeare is an interesting and engaging one man show. All aspects of it are solid: the script, the performance and the technical effects. That being said, it delivered nothing particularly sparkling, and to be brutally honest it was forgettable. Fundamentally your expectations need to be correct before you see it: this is not a theatrical tour de force, it is a dramatic lecture with sound and lights. If you are interested in Shakespeare and his work, go and see it. If you are not, then don’t bother, it will merely remind you of your university days!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Being Shakespeare runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 23rd July 2011.

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