By Danielle Farrow
New Theatre of Ottawa presents this solo show in which one of Shakespeare’s company recounts how he has wound up in prison. His journey from a player to an unassuming revolutionary within a 1607 uprising is absorbing and thought-provoking.
David Warburton plays the Player, well-welded to his character. His performance is grounded, quite subtle and yet has its larger moments and distinguished characterisations, which remain believable. John Koensgen’s direction includes recorded screams, the first of which jarred due to the sudden awareness of such technology, when a simple table and chair, coupled with the Player’s loose breeches and shirt, had established the non-technological era well. However, the discomfort intended by screams does work – the player and audience are unsettled by whatever is outside this prison cell, and – by the judicious use of different recordings – the effect proves well-chosen.
The Player, one who has worked into the night with William Shakespeare, and heralds from the same Warwickshire neck of the woods as this lauded playwright, chose, following years of ‘big talk’, to join the Midlands uprising against enclosures, the fencing off of public land for sheep farming. The table and chair are put to versatile use, as the Player meets various characters and deals with dangerous situations. Warburton is strong in his use of voice and physicality, though not always connected right down to his feet, and the people he meets come through clearly in both writing and performance. There are no outright heroes or villains, but real people, and there is also humour – in description and in the occasional wonderful line that grabs, punches or tickles in surprising manner. The sole prop is a carrot bu – while this serves for various items – it is never treated simply as a carrot, and the natural mime which also occurs along the way would in fact have sufficed.
The hub of the Player’s advice is foreshadowed. The play begins with Hamlet’s advice to the players, and the motif of holding a mirror up to nature wends its way through the piece. The story told is the background to understanding the Player’s advice, and in the end it proves to be an impassioned plea for theatre to own its power and focus it in a certain direction. The descriptions of William Shakespeare are riveting, his eyes reflecting only what he is seeing rather than life within. However, Shakespeare’s plays are incredibly malleable and have been used by revolutionaries as much as propagandists for authority, including being banned by tyrants. It is through interpretation and presentation that what they mean and seem to support is explored and changed for different times, places and people.
The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare explores one intriguing interpretation, based on reasonable investigation, and tied to the latter part of Shakespeare’s life. It is well acted, with Warburton holding attention for the full time, and it presents aspects of the kind of history unlikely to appeal to those interested in nobility, but which must have its place in wisdom passed down the ages.
A fine concept, well executed, that engages and subtly provokes.
30 July – 25 August (not 11), 19:15 (20:45) @ C Too (moved from C Nova)