Eight Lost Years of Young William Shakespeare’s Life
Reviewed – 29th March 2018
“What unfolds on the stage is absolutely magical”
Nobody knows what happened to William Shakespeare between the years 1585 and 1592, the so called ‘lost years’. There is no documentary evidence of his life during this period of time, so consequently a type of mythology has developed around these mysterious years. We do not know when or why he left Stratford-upon-Avon for London, or what he was doing before becoming a professional actor and dramatist in the capital.
Many people have their favourite version of the story, including Victoria Baumgartner who has written and directed “Will – or Eight Lost Years of Young William Shakespeare’s Life”. Presented by ‘Will & Compagnie’ in association with ‘Unfolds Theatre’ at the Rose Playhouse, these popular theories are explored with a compellingly fresh approach. It is hard to categorise the piece – it hovers between a play and performance art – as it switches between fantasy and reality and takes liberties with chronology. But that is not the point at all. What unfolds on the stage is absolutely magical.
The cast of five take us on Will’s journey, beginning with the young Shakespeare, newlywed to Anne, in the peaceful town of Stratford-upon-Avon. But, for Shakespeare, there is something missing, and his dreams and obsessions force him to leave his ordinary yet comfortable life behind. Sam Veck, as Shakespeare, is a revelation. In a dazzlingly natural performance he tackles the sense of period with a rock star’s sensibilities (a kind of Shakespeare meets Jim Morrison) capturing the obsessive qualities of a man dreaming of words nobody else can find.
Katherine Moran plays his wife, Anne, with touching honesty, relinquishing her husband. We can never really be sure why Shakespeare left his wife and family, but it is reasonable to assume that there must have been a strong reason, and the script cites the possibility that he was in trouble with the law and had to flee to escape punishment. It is quite heart wrenching to witness the separation, but moments of drama are expertly interspersed with comedy; particularly when we meet the ‘Queen’s Men’, a travelling group of actors led by Richard Burbage and his fictitious sister, Olivia (Ronnie Yorke and Beatrice Lawrence respectively). There’s a hilarious moment that suggests Shakespeare’s own over the top performance persuades the Burbages to recruit him as a writer rather than an actor.
The narrative would not be complete without Kit Marlowe and the Earl of Southampton. Charlie Woodward doubles as both characters, sometimes switching seamlessly and instantly from one to the other. Again, Baumgartner’s writing skilfully gives credence to the speculation of the relationships, but it is Veck and Woodward’s outstanding performances that spell out the understated homoeroticism.
A top notch cast indeed, who manage the shifts between fantasy and reality, past and present, fact and conjecture, tragedy and comedy. The play is bursting with echoes to Shakespeare’s future works. We see the fictitious inspiration to some of his greatest lines. We laugh at Shakespeare’s incarceration in an Italian prison, we cry at his reaction to his son’s death and then laugh at his failed audition for the ‘Queen’s Men’, but all the while we rejoice that these and many of the other events depicted may, or very possibly may not, have contributed to the subsequent thirty-nine plays he wrote. Shakespeare began by dreaming of words nobody else could find. He ended up adding nearly two thousand to the English language.
This play is an ingenious celebration of that fact: delighfully clever yet beguiling and moving. A real gem, and perfectly suited to the historical significance and resonance of the Rose Playhouse.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Erin Lawson
Rose Playhouse until 21st April