FRINGE REVIEW – Simon Callow in Shakespeare: The Man From Stratford (Assembly Hall)

*****

7 – 30 August (not 9, 16 or 23)
1430-1630, Assembly Hall

In Shakespeare: The Man From Stratford, Simon Callow proves that all the world is indeed a stage.

In his evocative and commanding one-handed performance at the Assembly Hall, he takes us on a journey through the Bard’s life, times and works. Cleverly using the ‘seven ages of man’ passage from As You Like It to punctuate the piece, Callow focuses on Shakespeare from his humble beginnings in Stratford, his unparalleled successes in Elizabethan London, through to his uncelebrated and unmourned final days and passing.

With personable style and delivery, Callow recounts biographical details about the playwright’s life, then effortlessly switches into an excerpt from one of his plays to emphasise or demonstrate a thematic point. Thus, all the tragedy, comedy and history of Shakespeare’s world is brought to life – and the audience are treated to one of the UK’s finest actors performing a theatrical medley of his ‘greatest hits’.

It is fascinating throughout the 120-minute performance (the show has a ten-minute interval) to be reminded how much of Shakespeare’s language still resonates through the centuries. It is equally compelling to imagine the Elizabethan world which Callow ably evokes, with its intrigue, politics and scandals: his enthusiastic performance and obvious passion for his subject shines from the stage during these informative sequences.

The set is stark and simple: a lone chair and a raised platform, with some small and imaginatively-used props – such as a globe, a pile of books and a constant-turning mobile representing the spirits and faerie-folk from Shakespeare’s magical plays. A back projection video screen and soundtrack is also used at some key points, though fortunately this is not overdone, as there was a risk of this overshadowing the performance itself.

But, of course, it’s not about the props or the set. The Man From Stratford is all about two men: Shakespeare and Callow himself – whose captivating performance and lively, personal style make this a piece which holds the attention from his entrance, his playing of many parts, and through to his last scene of all, two enjoyable hours later.

Ticket information is available on the Assembly website.

Review by Keith D

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