- Make a list of reasons why you should see Every Brilliant Thing.
- Thank Duncan Macmillan for writing Sleeve Notes, his book of lists.
- Thank actor Jonny Donahue for helping Macmillan to turn it into a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe and in London and New York.
- Put yourself in the shoes of the seven-year-old schoolboy who writes a list of every brilliant thing, every small miracle, to make his suicidal mum realise life is worth living.
- Ice cream.
- Water fights.
- Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.
- The colour yellow.
- Things with stripes.
- People falling over.
- Often ordinary things, but brilliant in their own way.
- Mum keeps trying to take her life, and so he keeps adding to the list.
- You should do the same. Make a list, I mean.
- Especially if you are feeling listless.
- Start now.
- Well, not until you have read this review.
- Thank Theatre@41 supporter Cate Birch for recommending Every Brilliant Thing to chair Alan Park.
- Thank Alan for reading it.
- Thank Alan, professional actor to boot, for deciding he should perform it himself.
- Thank Duncan Macmillan for saying yes to York’s new company Shared Space Theatre making it their debut production.
- Thank Alan for asking Maggie Smales – responsible for York Shakespeare Project’s best ever production, the all-female Henry V – to direct him.
- Thank brainbox Alan for having the mental powers to remember the script for his lead role in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing and Every Brilliant Thing in quick succession.
- Thank his Maths teacher of bygone years for Alan being good with numbers. So many numbers, one for every brilliant thing on a list now running to 1,000,000.
- Alan doesn’t have to remember all that list but he does have to remember what goes with each number that features in the show.
- And remember a running order that is not as easy as 123 to remember.
- Because it is not in numerical order.
- And sometimes a number is repeated.
- And repeated.
- Much later.
- It all adds up to a breathtaking and sometimes breathless display of skills in breaking down theatre’s fourth wall.
- Result: The audience immediately feels part of the hour-long show.
- Whether reading out a brilliant thing from the list on a number cue.
- Or having fun when gently enticed by Alan into playing a role.
- Such as?
- A teacher with a sock puppet of a dog, requiring Alan’s recruit to remove a shoe and sock to play the part.
- Or the boy’s father, but then switching with Alan for him to play the father and you, the son, en route to hospital, asking “Why” in response to everything he says.
- Because that’s what children do.
- Don’t ask.
- Later play the father again, this time in a wedding breakfast speech…revealing a Texan accent.
- Prompting Alan’s character – he has no name – to comment on suddenly discovering unexpected American roots.
- Describe a woman with an orange top and blonde hair from Macmillan’s story…and promptly ask a woman in the front row in orange, with blonde hair, to play that character.
- Make eye contact with another female member of the audience.
- She happens to be an actress, serendipitously. A rather good one.
- Flo Poskitt.
- One half of Fladam.
- York’s musical comedy double act with Adam Sowter.
- Catch them in Green Fingers at next week’s TakeOver Festival at York Theatre Royal.
- May 27, 3pm.
- Box office: 01904 623568.
- Or yortheatreroyal.co.uk.
- She willingly plays a woman called Sam with whom Alan’s character bonds over a love of books.
- They fall in love.
- They marry…after Flo’s Sam goes down on one unsteady knee to propose to him in an equally unsteady voice.
- Prompting a comment from Alan.
- He’s good at that.
- The impromptu stuff.
- Off the cuff.
- On the mark.
- It all helps that we are seated in two rows in the round, with no-one allowed upstairs under Macmillan’s strict rules of democracy to create a shared experience.
- There are a few empty chairs.
- But that’s good.
- Because Alan is only too happy to occupy any empty chair, next to whoever, and spring from chair to chair.
- Because, as George Osborne once said: “We are all in this together.”
- Although not in Chancellor George’s case, we weren’t.
- But definitely in Every Brilliant Thing.
- The list keeps growing.
- Lots of music.
- The way Ray Charles sings “You” in Drown In My Own Tears.
- But not jazz.
- Instrumental jazz, to be precise.
- Music that “sounds like it’s falling down the stairs”.
- Music to signify you should stay out of dad’s way at that moment.
- The marriage ends. Wham bam, exit Sam.
- The list stops.
- Well past 800,000.
- Only to start again years later.
- Like suddenly revisiting an old diary and feeling inspired to begin Dear Diarying all over again.
- Alan’s character has a serious point to make.
- Suicide. Don’t do it. There has to be something to live for, he says. Hence the list. Hence this show.
- And if the play has troubled you, Alan will be on hand afterwards to talk about its themes.
- This week’s production happens to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.
- More details at mentalhealth.org.uk.
- Every Brilliant Thing does address depression, suicide, death (beginning with the family pet), but it is uplifting, joyous, funny too.
- A difficult balancing act.
- But negotiated skilfully by Macmillan and Donahue, and now Park and Smales. Never glib. Often profound. Comforting. Thought provoking.
- Life changing?
- You decide.
- There are still three opportunities to see Every Brilliant Thing.
- Tonight at 7.30pm.
- Tomorrow at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.
- At the venue that won Best Entertainment Venue at Thursday night’s YorkMix Choice Awards 2023.
- Congratulations, Alan and all the team at Theatre@41.
- Another reason to…
- Add Every Brilliant Thing to your list of what to do this weekend. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
IS a play ever the real thing or just playing? What is love? What is art? What is truth? What is artifice? Can Tom Stoppard write good roles for women? Can you even trust this review? So many questions, and none of them will be answered conclusively.
He may be considered one of the greatest, smartest of British playwrights, knighted for his clever, clever dramas with their iridescent, intellectual language and adroit structures. But Tom Stoppard is not British by birth and nor is it his original name.
He was born Tomás Straüssler in Zlín, Czechoslovakia, and was raised in Singapore and India, taking the name Stoppard from his stepfather before moving to England in the post-war aftermath. He quit school (Pocklington School, by the way), becoming a journalist…and you know what they say about journalists and their relationship with the truth.
Written in 1982, The Real Thing revels in confusion, confusion that becomes even greater at the finale, or does it? Trust me, it certainly considers the nature of honesty in a play full of dishonesty and infidelity, where you may well not be able to tell when it is being a play within a play or a play being re-written within the play within the play or just a play.
Stoppard’s protagonist is a playwright, Henry (Alan Park, performing on a Theatre Royal stage for the first time since playing Jack in Pilot Theatre’s Lord Of The Flies 19 years ago).
He is married to Charlotte (Victoria Delaney), an actress, who is playing an actress, also called Charlotte as it happens, opposite Max (Mike Hickman) in Henry’s new play. Charlotte reckons he never writes her a decent role (an in-joke from Stoppard about his own writing).
Max in the play within a play is being played by an actor also called Max (Hickman), who is married to an actress, Annie (Alice May Melton).
Soon Henry and Annie are shacking up; dischuffed Charlotte and free-spirited daughter Debbie (Hannah Waring) moving on. Into the story come Billie (Rebecca Harrison), a lesbian young actress with a thing for Annie, and Brodie (Livy Potter), a troubled young writer whose frank and frankly badly written play is taken up by Annie. At least, I think that is what you are watching.
For sure, two years pass between Act and Act II, because the programme note says so, but Oxford School of Theatre graduate, professional actor and former Theatre Royal youth theatre fledgling Jacob Ward revels in the deliberate complexities in his first full-length production as director.
Betwixt scenes, actors move three door frames into different configurations – on Richard Hampton’s open-plan set design – that may or may not signify what is real and what isn’t.
A multitude of doors traditionally denotes we are in the presence of a theatrical farce, but here it is more a case of moving the goalposts or rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic as the grip on reality sinks.
Park’s playwright Henry has the best lines (of course he does!), and what he says carries the greatest weight as effectively Stoppard’s voice on stage in this heavily autobiographical drama.
What is reality, what is merely appearance, applies to the relationships within the play, where fronts keep being put up and lies told.
Ironically, such is the language he uses, Stoppard’s characters are often not wholly believable, being conduits for his own cleverness or point-making, but the greater truth here is a writer’s struggle to express love in his writing: the gap between Henry’s feelings for Annie and putting them on the page.
Amid the obfuscation of a multi-storey of levels on stage, Stoppard’s grasp of the complications of love is the one real thing in this Tony Award-winning romantic comedy that is more romantic in spirit than action.
Whatever the truth within, Ward’s cast is the real deal, Park a powerhouse of opinion and conviction, Melton full of intrigue and resolve, mysterious and elusive too; Delaney delightfully forthright; the rest wholly committed to spinning plates ever faster.
York Settlement Community Players present Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, York Theatre Royal Studio, 7.30pm nightly until Saturday, plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office
YORK Settlement Community Players return to York Theatre Royal’s Studio this Eastertide with Tom Stoppard’s typically smart and unsettling comedy drama The Real Thing.
Premiered in 1982 by the Pocklington School alumnus, this beguiling play of surprises and erudite wit follows Henry – possibly the sharpest playwright of his generation – who is married to actress Charlotte. Into the story Stoppard weaves a second couple, Max and wife Annie.
Henry, meanwhile, has written a play about a couple, who happen to be called Max and Charlotte – just to muddy the water – whose marriage is on the brink of collapse.
Soon they will discover that sometimes life imitates art in Stoppard’s world of actors and writers, wherein his exploration of love and infidelity is designed to make audiences question: “What is the real thing?”
Directing the Settlement Players for the first time, professional actor Jacob Ward says: “I’m very excited for an audience to interact with our modern-day version of this play. Its subject seems simple but, as we see through the eyes of various characters, we realise its complexity, and enjoy having our views on love and relationships broadened.
“The writing is nothing short of genius – it really is. Even after 20-plus times of reading, I’m still finding impossible connections and meaning. It’s a joy to direct and will be a thrill to watch: hilarious, heart-warming and thought-provoking all in one. We have a brilliant cast of actors to take you on the journey and a truly dedicated production team to bring the play to life.”
Ward’s cast will be led by Alan Park, chair of Theatre@41, Monkgate, as Henry and Alice May Melton, a stand-out in York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s December 2022 production of A Nativity of York, playing Annie.
Victoria Delaney quickly follows up her turn as Kath in York Actors Collective’s debut production of Joe Orton’s farce Entertaining Mr Sloane with her role as Charlotte. Mike Hickman will be Max, Rebecca Harrison, Billy, and Hannah Waring, Debbie. Settlement chair – and Ward’s partner to boot – Livy Potter has taken over the part of Brodie at short notice, only weeks after starring in Gary Owen’s one-woman drama Iphigenia In Splott.
“I’d been in The Real Inspector Hound in 2006, directed by Laura Attridge, the opera director, who now lives in York, by the way,” says Jacob, recalling his first experience of performing in a Stoppard play in his Newcastle University days where he also co-directed new writing pieces and did likewise on scratch nights for Northern Stage and Alphabetti Theatre.
“I went to see The Real Thing with my dad, when I was at university. I was at a loose end that day and it just happened to be on at the Old Vic. We both really enjoyed it, but I remember having no idea of what happened in the play as it’s designed in every way to confuse the audience!
“So, when Settlement put out a call to direct this season’s production, I thought, ‘here’s an opportunity to do the play that confused the hell out of me, to see if I could make any more sense of it for the audience!”
Reading the script, Jacob realised “it’s not meant to be anything but confusing”. “Stoppard says it’s like a magic trick,” he says. “As a director, I’m thinking, ‘well, why has he made it so difficult?’, but that’s the point. You have all these characters reading something different into the same situation, mainly relating to their relationships.”
How has Jacob responded to the intricacies and layers of Stoppard’s script? “His writing has a uniqueness because so few writers are so good that every single stage direction, every piece of grammar, really matters.
“They’ve all been thought out so well that you know when you’ve hit the right note, as it’s intricately designed to perfection, so that ultimately it only works one way in my head – which is always a brilliant Stoppard way.
“Working with the cast, we have to keep playing with it, delving into it, to make sense of it, until suddenly it takes on a greater meaning when all the pieces fit together. Everyone in the cast has enjoyed doing the play because you get these Aha! Moments.”
What is real in The Real Thing, Jacob? “There are many real things that he’s talking about, in general and specific terms: love, relationships and sex as part of love,” he says.
“He’s also looking at how people put on facades; what’s real and what’s a front; what’s real writing, what isn’t; what’s real art, what isn’t.
“Then ‘class’ feeds into it too, how someone who’s not been educated to a certain level can live a full life but not articulate it, whereas someone else can articulate but may not know as much about life as they think they do.
“We don’t get answers with Stoppard, but lots of viewpoints to go away and discuss. I love how this play has a reason to exist and that reason is to talk about it afterwards.”
York Settlement Community Players in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, York Theatre Royal, April 5, 6 and 11 to 15, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm April 15 matinee. No performances from April 7 to 10. Post-show Q&A session on April 12. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
What is Jacob Ward directing next?
JACOB Ward is directing a script-in-hand reading of Old Stan, aka A Fool Fooled, by Marin Držić , “the Croatian Shakespeare”, at the York International Shakespeare Festival next month.
The performance of the 1551 comedy’s first ever translation into English will take place in the Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul Building, Humanities Research Centre, University of York on April 27 at 6pm, preceded by an introduction to the work of the greatest Slavic Renaissance playwright at 5pm.
In Old Stan, an old peasant is fooled by tales of false fairies whose magic supposedly restores youth. Držić’s delicious, sparkly play, written entirely in verse, was commissioned for a wedding feast of a Ragusan nobleman, and he joked that nobody could marry without him in Dubrovnik, his home city.
Translated for the first time in 471 years by Filip Krenus – again entirely in verse – the comedy follows Stan’s misadventures that we might associate with Bottom or even Falstaff in riotous proof of Držić’s uncanny kinship with Shakespeare.
Držić devotees will be travelling over from Dubrovnik to attend the performance. Box office: yorkshakes.co.uk.
Did you know?
JACOB Ward played the god Tyr in York Theatre Royal’s community production of Maureen Lennon’s The Coppergate Woman last August.
In York Shakespeare Project’s final production of its first full cycle of Shakespeare plays, he took the role of suitor Ferdinand in The Tempest on tour last September.
Copyright of The Press, York
YORK actress Victoria Delaney will be appearing in two plays in quick succession, all on top of her daytime job and being a mum.
From tonight until Saturday, she plays Kath in York Actors Collective’s debut production of Joe Orton’s savage 1964 farce Entertaining Mr Sloane at Theatre@41, Monkgate.
From April 5 to 15, this will be followed by her turn as in York Settlement Community Players’ staging of Tom Stoppard’s 1982 exploration of love and infidelity, The Real Thing, at York Theatre Royal Studio.
Entertaining Mr Sloane launches director and tutor Angie Millard’s new company. “After Angie directed Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind for Settlement Players last February, we were mulling over a few ideas about starting up a company, and what to do, and we settled on Entertaining Mr Sloane,” says Victoria, who had played the lead, housewife Susan, in Ayckbourn’s dark comedy.
“It’s a highly pressurised play for the cast, especially for the young actor playing Sloane. Angie has chosen Ben Weir, from York St John University, who appeared in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Shakespeare In Love last April.”
In Orton’s fractious farce, Delaney’s Kath, who lives with her father Dada Kemp, brings home a lodger, the amoral and psychopathic Mr Sloane, a face familiar to the father from his past.
When her brother Ed arrives, complications crank up when the siblings become embroiled in a tense sexual struggle for Sloane as he plays one off against the other while Dada Kemp is caught in the crossfire.
“I think it’s still a radical play as it’s such a dark comedy, but people need to remember that they’re permitted to laugh because it is really funny. People are drawn to looking at the scene of a car crash and that’s a bit like what watching really dark comedy is like,” says Victoria.
She is delighted to be appearing in a cast featuring Chris Pomfrett as Ed and Mick Liversidge as Dada Kemp alongside Weir’s Sloane. “I’m really lucky to be working with Chris, who played the doctor in Woman In Mind, and Mick, who was Vanya in Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike, the last play Settlement did last year. It’s great to be back with them as there’s a lot of trust there.”
That trust is essential when performing a play of extreme behaviour. “It’s misogynistic, there are racist comments in there, and Kath’s character is vulnerable and highly sexualised. Feminists will be up in arms,” says Victoria.
“But isn’t theatre supposed to be thought-provoking and aren’t we supposed to learn from the mistakes of the past, like how we now look at Dada Kemp’s racist comments?
“Also, some of the terminology shows how different society was at that time, like Kath’s illegitimate baby, when she was young, was ‘born on the wrong side of the blanket’. It’s good to dip your toe into different times to show how it was.”
Victoria has a preference for Entertaining Mr Sloane over Orton’s most performed work, What The Butler Saw. “Maybe it’s more gritty, and I like that,” she says. “If I had to choose a modern-day drama to perform, I would pick something gritty and British that has wit as well, and Entertaining Mr Sloane does.
“If you have a powerful plot, then you really have the chance to up your acting game and show your skills. At times, it’s also important to remember it’s a comedy, but there are some scenes that however you approach them, they’re not going to be funny, but what you do next has to be funny to lift the mood.”
Coming next will be her first experience of performing a play by Pocklington School alumnus Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing. “It’s my first Stoppard and my first time of working with director Jacob ward, who I met when we did The Coppergate Woman last year at York Theatre Royal, where he played one of the gods,” says Victoria. “He came to see me in Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike, liked what I did, and that helped with the audition.”
In Stoppard’s typically witty and adroit play within a play, Henry is married to Charlotte, Victoria’s character. Max is married to Annie. Henry – possibly the sharpest playwright of his generation – has written a play about a couple whose marriage is on the brink of collapse. Charlotte and Max, his leading couple, are soon to find out that sometimes life imitates art, as Stoppard has everyone questioning, “What is the real thing?”
“Charlotte’s husband has written a play for her to star in, but she hates him and the play as he’s written a really weak woman character, which is something that Stoppard was accused of doing in the past. So this is Stoppard taking the mick out of himself,” says Victoria.
York Actors Collective in Entertaining Mr Sloane, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight (15/3/2023) to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
York Settlement Community Players in The Real Thing, York Theatre Royal Studio, April 5 and 6, 7.30pm; April 11 to 15, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. No performances from April 7 to 10. Question-and-answer session after the April 12 peformance. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Jacob Ward to direct York Settlement Community Players in Tom Stoppard’s deceptive comedy The Real Thing
YORK thespian Jacob Ward is directing York Settlement Community Players for the first time in Tom Stoppard’s play within a play, The Real Thing, at York Theatre Royal Studio from April 5 to 15.
First performed in 1982, this award-winning beguiling play of surprise and wit follows Henry, possibly the sharpest playwright of his generation, who is married to Charlotte, an actress. Max is married to Annie.
Henry has written a play about a couple whose marriage is on the brink of collapse. Charlotte and Max, his leading couple, are soon to learn that sometimes life imitates art in Stoppard’s study of love and infidelity that ponders: “What is the real thing…?”
Settlement Players’ last production was New Jersey playwright Christopher Durang’s relationship comedy Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike at Theatre@41 in November 2022.
The Real Thing marks their return to the Theatre Royal Studio after presenting Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind last February.
Director Jacob Ward says: “I’m very excited for an audience to interact with our modern-day version of Stoppard’s play. Its subject seems simple but, as we see through the eyes of various characters, we realise its complexity, and enjoy having our views on love and relationships broadened.
“The writing is nothing short of genius – it really is. Even after 20-plus times of reading, I’m still finding impossible connections and meaning. It’s a joy to direct and will be a thrill to watch: hilarious, heart-warming and thought-provoking all in one.
“We have a brilliant cast to take you on the journey and a truly dedicated production team to bring the play to life. I can’t wait to add the audience.”
Alan Park, chair of Theatre@41, takes on the role of Henry. Alice Melton, last seen in York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s 2022 production of A Nativity Of York last December, plays Annie. They are joined by Settlement regulars and newcomers: Victoria Delaney as Charlotte; Mike Hickman as Max; Rebecca Harrison as Billy; Hannah Waring as Debbie and Alexandra Logan as Brodie.
SHAKESPEARE In Love was a film about theatre, as much as it was about love. Now it is a play about theatre, with even more theatre in it, more Marlowe as well as Shakespeare, as much as it is still about love.
It makes perfect sense to transfer the period rom-com from screen to its natural bedfellow, the stage, and who better than Lee Hall to effect that transition.
For the north-eastern mining and dancing drama Billy Elliot, he adapted his own screenplay; this time, he makes merry with Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s boisterous and romantic script for John Madden’s 1999 award-winner, ruffing it up to the neck in Shakespeare in-jokes, but not roughing up its sophisticated wit.
Pick Me Up Theatre’s always quick-off-the-mark founder, Robert Readman, was typically speedy to pick up the rights to Shakespeare In Love for the York company’s tenth anniversary, whereupon a series of spot-on decisions were made.
First, appoint Bard buff and Pick Me Up ace card Mark Hird to direct the rollicking romp. Second, bring George Stagnell back to the York stage to play the title role. Third, talent-spot Swedish-born Sanna Jeppsson in York Settlement Community Players’ The 39 Steps (even when it fell at the first step, called off through cast illness after one night last November).
Four, utilise Readman’s skills, not only as producer and designer/builder, but also his dormant love of performing. When you need a thick slice of ham to play larger-than-life Elizabethan actor Ned Alleyn, “prince of the provinces”, who you gonna call? Why, Mr Readman, of course, tapping into his inner plummy Simon Callow.
Readman has conjured an end-on, raised stage built for the outdoors, but no less suited to the John Cooper Studio’s black box, with its echoes of Shakespeare’s Globe or the Rose; decorative flowers; curtains to cover amorous going-ons behind, and traps for hasty exits and entries.
Ensemble cast members sit beside the stage apron, watching the action when not involved. On a mezzanine level, musical director Natalie Walker and Royal College of Music student Tom Bennett are playing Paddy Cunneen’s gorgeous score.
Hird’s company looks the Elizabethan part too, Readman’s costume brief requiring hires from the Royal Shakespeare Company, no less, as well as York Theatre Royal and Leeds Playhouse, plus ear studs and earrings aplenty (for the men).
Praise too for Emma Godivala and York College’s work on hair, fake moustaches and make-up, especially for Jeppsson when taking the guise of young actor Thomas Kent.
The make-up for the men is deliberately heavy, in keeping with Shakespeare’s day, but everything else is conducted with a delightfully light touch under Hird’s direction, where the next scene chases the previous one off the stage, such is the gleeful urgency to crack on with such a cracking plot replete with cross-dressing, swordplay and backside-biting puppetry (courtesy of Elanor Kitchen’s Spot the Dog).
The only slowness is in the pace of lines coming to Shakespeare’s quill, surrounded by the company of actors awaiting the next play of his still fledgling career, outshone by dashing, daring Kit Marlowe (Adam Price), amusingly providing his young friend (Stagnell’s Will) with all his best lines.
Theatre bosses Henslowe (Ian Giles) and rival Richard Burbage (Tony Froud) are vying for Shakespeare’s services; theatre backer “The Money” Fennyman (Andrew Isherwood) keeps applying the financial squeeze, often with menaces; Tilney (Neil Foster), the supercilious Lord Chamberlain with the insufferable killjoy manner of Malvolio, is determined to shut down theatres, whatever excuse he can find.
Queen Elizabeth (Joy Warner) wants a dog to have its day in every play; Guy Wilson’s John Webster just wants a chance; Shakespeare needs a muse. Enter Jeppsson’s Viola de Lesseps, alas promised to the ghastly Lord Wessex (Jim Paterson) against her wishes. Viola is banned from the stage under the rules, but takes the dangerous step of performing as Thomas Kent, and what a performer he/she is.
Viola’s amusing West Country Nurse (Beryl Nairn) becomes the template for that very character in Romeo & Juliet, and as Shakespeare’s work in progress changes from comedy to tragedy, Alleyn plays Mercutio, fabulously outraged at being killed off so early.
Shakespeare In Love gives us a developing play within a play, and while it helps to have some knowledge of Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Burbage et al, it echoes Blackadder in having such fun with a period setting and re-writing history, here imagining how Romeo & Juliet and in turn Twelfth Night may have emerged.
What’s more, Stagnell and Jeppsson are a delight in the swelling love story, as well as in delivering Shakespeare’s lines when called on to do so.
Terrific performances abound around them, especially from Price, Isherwood, Paterson and Wilson, a young talent with a gift for physical comedy in the Marty Feldman and Tony Robinson tradition, while Warner’s cameos as Queen Elizabeth are a joy too.
To cap it all, Sam Hird and Tom Bennett’s performance of an Elizabethan ballad is beautiful, typical of a swashbuckling performance that is a palpable hit in every way. If you love theatre, this play is why you do. If you don’t, go anyway and be converted. Tonight until Friday’s shows have sold out but tickets are still available for 2.30pm and 7.30pm on Saturday at tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Review by Charles Hutchinson
YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre mark their tenth anniversary with a rollicking celebration of the joys of theatre, Shakespeare In Love.
Adapted for the stage by Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall from Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s screenplay for the Oscar-winning 1999 film, the Elizabethan love story will be performed under the direction of Bard buff Mark Hird at Theatre@ 41, Monkgate, from tomorrow (1/4/2022) to April 9.
First staged by Sonia Friedman Productions in the West End with Cheek By Jowl’s Declan Donnellan in the director’s chair in 2014, Hall’s play was snapped up for its York premiere by Pick Me Up’s ever-alert founder, artistic director, designer and producer, Robert Readman (who will be making a rare appearance as actor Ned Alleyn).
“When Robert got the rights, I read it, and straightaway I thought, ‘my god, it’s brilliant’, with Stoppard and Norman as the starting point for the fantastic script, and Lee Hall then transforming it into a great piece of theatre,” says director Mark Hird.
“Anyone who thinks this Shakespeare In Love will be just the film on stage, it’s absolutely not. It’s so theatrical, and that makes it such a joy to put on. That’s what so special about it: it’s a love letter to theatre as well as being a great love story.
“Anyone who comes to the play who loves theatre will leave with a great big smile on their face at all the theatrical allusions. Lee Hall has put even more theatre aficionado jokes in there.”
Shakespeare In Love delights in the love story of struggling young playwright Will Shakespeare (played by George Stagnell) and feisty, free-spirited young noblewoman Viola de Lesseps (Sanna Jeppsson), his greatest admirer, who helps him to overcome writer’s block and becomes his muse.
She will stop at nothing, even breaking the law and dressing as a boy actor to appear in his next play, whereupon, in this turbulent world of mistaken identity, ruthless scheming and backstage theatrics, Will’s love for Viola quickly blossoms, inspiring him to write his breakthrough romantic drama, Romeo and Juliet.
“Basically, you have Will Shakespeare right back in the early days of his career, having done Titus Andronicus, Two Gentlemen Of Verona and Henry VI, but he’s not yet had a big hit,” says Mark.
“All Marlowe’s plays are being bigger hits at the time, and in fact there’s a lot more of Kit Marlowe in the play than there was in the film,” says George.
“But the love story is still at the heart of the play, and it’s as beautiful on stage as it was in the film, but there’s now a lot more changes of energy, moving back and forth from the chaotic rehearsals, and all the fun that goes with that, interspersed with the love story,” says Mark.
Sanna first saw the film on Swedish TV with Swedish subtitles before moving to Britain and has watched it again since landing her role as the ground-breaking Viola. “She’s a very brave woman, doing something that was forbidden at the time; something she wouldn’t be allowed to do, being in a space she wouldn’t have had access to as herself, having to take the guise of a boy actor, Thomas Kent,” she says.
“Being on stage, feeling so alive for the first time, I can connect with that. I remember going on a backstage tour of Mamma Mia!, and then getting to go out on to this amazing stage and looking at all those seats, and wanting to be on there performing.
“That’s what I bring with me when Viola comes on as Thomas Kent, knowing she shouldn’t be there, and normally could only imagine the audience looking at her.”
“I always like to go on stage before a show, when the auditorium is empty,” says George. “When it’s quiet and no-one’s there, you take the space in and imagine how it will erupt with life. It’s like the calm before the storm.”
Mark adds: “There’s something about an empty theatre: you can feel the presence of the ghosts of all those who have been there before.”
Sanna rejoins: “A theatre is a space where anything can happen, that moment of magic and then it’s gone.”
George has focused on playing young Will Shakespeare, not the feted Bard. “Pretty much since day one, I’ve had to come in not thinking ‘this is William Shakespeare’,” he says. “I don’t want to have that mentality of thinking about who he became, but to see him as this young man trying to find his way through a very complicated time in history, in the early days of his writing, when there was a lot of history that we don’t know and a lot of conjecture.”
Mark concurs: “That’s what’s so gorgeous about this piece. We all think we know about Shakespeare, but here we are watching a three-dimensional character called Will.”
Sanna had studied Shakespeare “a little bit at school, but not in its original language”, when growing up in Molkom, but when she lived out her long-held dream of moving to London in 2013, she attended the International College of Musical Theatre, rather than focusing on classical theatre.
“Almost every other person in London is an actor, which makes it hard there, and so I moved to York in 2019, where I now work as a civil servant for the Ministry of Justice, sitting on in trials sometimes.”
From courtroom dramas, Sanna’s attention now switches to courtship dramas on stage.
Pick Me Up Theatre in Shakespeare In Love, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, April 1 to 9, 7.30pm, except April 3 and 4; 2.30pm, April 2, 3 and 9 . Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Copyright of The Press, York