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Shakespeare from cradle to final curtain

PUBLISHED: 17:37 08 September 2010 | UPDATED: 18:17 08 September 2010

Simon Callow in The Man from Stratford

Simon Callow in The Man from Stratford

Archant

Simon Callow's one man show tells the life story of the bard

Shakespeare’s histories have never snared my passion, but his own history is another story entirely, writes Jules Cooper.

The Man from Stratford, soon to be performed as a one man show by Simon Callow at the Churchill Theatre Bromley, is a dramatic account of the playwright’s life from cradle to grave.

The production sees a velvet-coated actor lend his seasoned gravitas to the playwright’s famous lines, aptly woven into a chronological investigation of his life.

That Shakespeare was a common lad who only began writing plays in his late twenties was surprising. To hear of how his life related to the Plague, Ben Johnson, Christopher Marlowe, and the ascension of James I to the throne, was fascinating.

The audience can rely on Jonathan Bate’s script to provide a consistently eyebrow-raising story of Shakespeare’s life, cleverly divided into seven parts or characters, from ‘puking’ infant to dying father. But the best for me were those parts where Callow injected his own humour and understanding into the portrayal of the man from Stratford himself.

Playing a lively, common young Shakespeare, Callow takes on the persona of Shakespeare’s comic characters in describing the moment he leaves home to seek employment in London. He has his audience laugh at gross impressions of his family’s sobbing whilst berating his cur of a dog for not reacting to the departure of its master in the slightest.

The actor later reveals that once established as a playwright, Shakespeare would occasionally take parts in his own plays – usually as a character of comic relief.

Something that makes this production so engaging is the unheard of opportunity to see a besotted, talented actor seamlessly slip into dozens of Shakespeare’s characters’ soliloquies and quips, each time effortlessly and with conviction.

The performance is two hours long, and I had expected my attention to wane towards the end of each half.

Thanks to Callow’s wardrobe of characters, from which he was able to whip out a bawdy Mercutio or a ethereal Ophelia at a moment’s notice, not once did I long for Callow to wind up and deliver the bard’s final curtain call.

It would be impractical to list all of the plays and sonnets Bate includes, but the effect is to rekindle an interest in discovering all the Shakespeare plays you are only half-familiar with, and for the majority of us, that’s the bulk of his work.

The Riverside Studios, where I saw the production in Hammersmith this month, had built a set designed with some simplicity in mind.

A wooden platform takes up the central space and dotted around it are a few props and books from which Callow occasionally pretends to read his indelible lines. An occasional prop came to life or bellowed flames to support Callow’s performance, but really the token dramatic effect was surplus to requirement in this production.

● The Man from Stratford runs at the Churchill Theatre Bromley from Tuesday, September 28 to October 2.

For tickets priced £23 – £27, call ticket sales on 08448 717 620 or visit ambassadortickets.com/bromley.

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