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Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Brighton 2012 arrow Shakespeare Unbound, Gift to the Future
Shakespeare Unbound, Gift to the Future
Published on Sunday, 13 May 2012

3 stars

Iambic Arts Theatre (venue website)
10-11 May, 5:00pm-6:20pm; 12 May, 2:30pm-3:50pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 2-for-1 tickets for Friends of the Fringe members.

In this simply-staged, well-acted one-man play, we’re invited to meet John Heminges – the man who published the first collected volume of Shakespeare’s plays, saving many of them from a slow decline into obscurity.  Greeting us, the “ghosts of the future”, he shares his memories of the man from Stratford, and recounts an often-colourful mediaeval soap opera with the Bard in the starring role.

But as the programme disarmingly observes, it’s all complete fiction.  Famously little is known about Shakespeare’s life, though the play does advance one highly credible theory about why this should be so.  Still, it’s fun to speculate, and this detailed imagined history at least conveys the spirit of the times – when the Lord Chamberlain could close down a theatre if it dared stray from the sanctioned script, and where the looming death of the childless Queen Elizabeth left intrigue and rebellion forever in the air.

Perhaps inevitably, Heminges’ monologue is punctured by readings from the plays and sonnets he so assiduously assembled.  At first, I rolled my eyes at the parade of Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits – “All The World’s A Stage”, “This Sceptred Isle”, you know the kind of thing – but those were just to get us in the mood; later extracts were less familiar, and tied in better with the plot.  All the same, I groaned a little each time Reese began to flick the pages, because the readings were just that: words from a page, devoid of context, short of life and character.  There’s an unintentionally ironic moment when Heminges points out that Shakespeare wrote particular roles to suit particular actors – despite the fact that he has just attempted all of them.

No, I far preferred Heminges’ fireside reminiscences on the life of Shakespeare the man.  Actor Colin David Reese is natural, relaxed and confident in the role; even a handful of fumbled lines came across as no more than the forgetfulness of Heminges’ elderly mind.  Reese lives his character, and his character lives his remembered tales, to the point that I could almost see the players strut or hear the Globe burn.

Ultimately, though, Heminges’ poignant final appeal – “remember me” – is curiously unanswered by this play.  Heminges shares little of his personal story, except inasmuch as it’s entwined with Shakespeare’s, and his struggles to save the plays for posterity are skipped over in a few brief lines.  The premise suggests an interesting new angle on the Stratford story… but the script delivers 80 minutes of solid Bard-worship.  It’s amusing and enlightening, but it’s not as different as it could have been from what’s gone before.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.