Shakespeare, His Wife, and the Dog

November 10, 2016 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★★☆  Human

Summerhall: Wed 9 – Sat 12 November 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Not only is Shakespeare, His Wife, and the Dog at Summerhall a treat for all theatre aficionados, it is also clever, emotional and wonderfully acted.

Returning as part of a tour to Summerhall – where it played to acclaim on the Fringe in 2014 – Philip Whitchurch’s play (which he performs with Sally Edwards) shows a post-retirement Shakespeare back in Stratford with his wife Anne Hathaway.

Sally Edwards and Philip Whitchurch. Photo Bated Breath

Sally Edwards and Philip Whitchurch. Photo Bated Breath

Neither can sleep, and over the course of a night his frustrations at being unable to write, her anger at him, the friction between them and the problems of ageing are explored in a witty and touching script stuffed with Shakespearean allusions both indirect and blatant.

Since so little is known of Will’s life, Whitchurch is free to invent a great deal, drawing on scholarship and myths elegantly. For example, the strange matter of his own will is explained in a believable way.

The play is also far less downbeat than a synopsis makes it appear. There is a grace and economy to the writing, and the language is always apt without being prissily archaic. While knowledge of Shakespeare will add to the audience’s enjoyment, there is enough here to fascinate and entertain anyone.

There are some dud gags, the odd laboured point, and some of the textual jokes are a shade obvious – for example, the explicit reference to Waiting For Godot is an unnecessarily clunky underlining of some early exchanges that evoke Beckett beautifully.

effortless and fresh

Good as the script is, the strength of this production is in the performances. You do not need to know that Whitchurch and Edwards are a couple offstage to appreciate the chemistry at work here – a chemistry that also helps evoke the deep affection that lies behind Will and Anne’s feuding. This is a masterclass in two-handed acting, appearing extraordinarily effortless and fresh – the sign of extremely hard work by the performers and director Julia St John.

It is particularly interesting to see this in the setting of Summerhall’s Anatomy Lecture Theatre; being so close up, and at eye level with the performers, gives an unusual insight into the mechanics of such accomplished acting.

This is not just for Shakespeare geeks. It is at once funny and serious, an exploration of history and fame, but also a poignant portrait of a relationship that is warm, human and extremely satisfying.

Running time 1 hour 5 minutes (no interval)
Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL
Wednesday 9 – Saturday 12 November 2016
Daily at 7.45pm
Full details and tickets on the Summerhall website: http://www.summerhall.co.uk/2016/shakespeare-his-wife-and-the-dog/
Company website: http://batedbreath.co.uk

Shakespeare, His Wife, and the Dog on tour:
Wed 9 – Sat 12 November Edinburgh
Summerhall
0131 560 1580 Book online
Wed 16 – Fri 18 November Colchester
Mercury Theatre
01206 573948 Book online
Mon 21 – Wed 23 November Birmingham
Repertory Theatre
0121 236 4455 Book online

 

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