There has been much speculation regarding the 8 lost years of William Shakespeare’s life and as with everything of that nature, there are a number of theories that are sensationalized to varying degrees but are consistent in their core details. Victoria Baumgartner brings us a choice few of these most prevalent theories in WILL or Eight Lost Years of Young William Shakespeare’s Life.
The performance opens with a struggling young glover’s son searching desperately for a way to make ends meet and with affairs, arduous journeys, and heartbreak in droves along the way, the story steadily moves to its conclusion with Will now a successful playwright beginning the most lauded and documented years of his life in London.
The play is being performed in its original French, with a different cast and producing ensemble but the English version has a cast of 6 very talented performers. Sam Veck as Shakespeare himself is naturally centerstage much of the time but Katherine Moran, Beatrice Lawrence, Ronnie Yorke, Charlie Woodward and Léa Fanchon all display versatility and talent in their respective roles with Yorke’s crowd interaction standing out as a particular highlight for me.
Seeing a piece about Shakespeare in the excavated ruins of a 16th-century theatre, I had expected this to be a more traditional piece and was somewhat surprised to see that scenes were interspersed with sections of interpretive dance. I could understand that these sections were used to move the storyline on and introduce the scene following them but nevertheless, I found the style shift quite stark and the interspersion of modern music was quite jarring in a piece with period costumes and a formal tone.
On the other hand, there were infrequent ‘scene changes’ during which Shakespeare battled with some inner demons, fighting his desire to give up or his fear that he was taking the wrong path. These used interwoven spoken lines and abstract sounds from all the cast and were very effective, even if Shakespeare was never, to my knowledge, documented to be quite as haunted by his inner demons as he was made out to be.
The storyline itself was linear and took Shakespeare initially from his family home to the company of the Earl of Southampton (driven by his low wages and a spot of bother for poaching) and here one of the more widely debated theories of Shakespeare’s life is brought forth as he is portrayed as clearly having a romantic interest in the Earl. This is something suspected from some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, but it has never been proven and smacked a little of sensationalism. Credit to Veck and Woodward’s portrayal of their affair, unabashedly heated and emotive.
Following the Earl’s dismissal, Shakespeare is sent to York to write sonnets to the Earl’s fiancée on his behalf and on that trip, Shakespeare meets and joins Richard and Olivia Burbage and becomes exposed to theatre, something the character Shakespeare believes to largely be a dead artform at the time.
Shakespeare’s involvement in and love of the theatre grows, and he is told several times that he is to be the savior of theatre and that he is not merely writing plays but making history and this helps him find his voice and inspiration. However, things fall apart after Olivia dies and Richard Burbage and Shakespeare travel to Italy (not something I have ever read he did) and ended up in trouble which only Shakespeare’s quill can save them from.
Overall, the plot is somewhat over-dramatic and very ‘black and white’ in its portrayal of Shakespeare’s activities and while I can see how in some ways that might make for a better story, the fragmented way the production has been styled (with dance and hauntings etc.) breaks this up and takes away from some of its effectiveness. Moreover, the addition of the dance and other fragments take time away from the full development of some areas of the characterization and plot development detracting from the effectiveness of the piece as a whole.
For me, there is no doubt that the well prepared, dynamic cast did an excellent job with what I feel was a script that just didn’t quite work as well as it could have done.
Review by Damien Russell
England, 1585. The young Will Shakespeare is living in the peaceful town of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the heart of England with his newlywed wife, Anne. But something’s missing. He’s dreaming of prophecies, rough magic and words no one is able to find.
As he starts following these dreams, life takes him on a journey, from under the protection of an immensely rich Lord to nights in brawl taverns with travelling actors. But Elizabethan England is not an easy place to thrive…
Find out the story of how Will became William Shakespeare through this play bursting with echoes to his future works, in between fantasies and reality.
Sam Veck – William Shakespeare
Katherine Moran – Anne Shakespeare
Beatrice Lawrence – Olivia Burbage
Ronnie Yorke – Richard Burbage
Charlie Woodward – Earl of Southampton / Christopher Marlowe / Gravedigger
Léa Fanchon – Music and Singing
WILL OR EIGHT LOST YEARS OF YOUNG WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S LIFE – BY VICTORIA BAUMGARTNER
March 27, 2018 – April 21, 2018