Overall Rating: ★★★★★
What a fantastic show! This was theatre at its best.
The original play was written for an American audience by Lauren Gunderson. However, it has been superbly adapted for the discerning British audience by Lotte Wakeham. Wakeham’s direction of the play is highly forward-thinking. We are treated to a staged performance ‘in the round,’ making this an intimate immersion into the story. Directing and performing ‘in the round’ is no small feat, as the actors have to remain in character even when they aren’t delivering lines; they are still in full view of the audience at all times.
As a lecturer in English, I am unquestionably a long-time fan of Shakespeare. However, I was not expecting to be blown away by such superb writing and acting, which told the tale of how the Bard’s First Folio came about. Shakespeare’s folio was first published in 1623—seven years after his death—and contains thirty-six plays. It was undoubtedly a feat of mammoth proportions to locate all of these plays; only eighteen could immediately be found. Many popular plays that are studied today in schools might have been lost if it wasn’t for the determined resilience of Shakespeare’s loyal friends. One can only dare to imagine the horror of never studying ‘Twelfth Night,’ ‘Macbeth,’ ‘The Tempest,’ or ‘Julius Caesar’—what would our modern writers have used for inspiration?
In Act One, we were immediately introduced to the play’s protagonists, Shakespeare’s great friends: John Heminges (Russell Richardson) and Henry Condell (Niall Costigan). They waxed lyrical over the quality of their good friend’s plays and how they were being ‘bastardised,’ in their opinion, by charlatans who couldn’t deliver the lines with the correct meter or conviction. They reminisced about their performances as The King’s Players and ultimately decided, with the assistance of their families and further friends of Shakespeare—including adversaries—to put together a full collection of their friend’s work.
The quality of this production at every level and from every component—actors, producer, directors, movement director, casting, lighting, set design, and costume—was impressively spectacular, completely awe-inspiring, and ultimately breathtakingly first-class!
If this isn’t enough to make you buy a ticket to watch the play, then on top of this, Shakespeare North is proudly hosting a free exhibition where you can view the original folio, get involved with workshops, listen to specialist talks, and—for the children—dress up in period costume and even learn to use a quill correctly.