Sunday, November 25, 2007

Now that's what I call Shakespeare (Sweet William - Arcola Theatre)

Michael Pennington is a bit of an obsessive about Shakespeare. At age 11 he was inspired to become an actor by a production of Macbeth, has spent, at his own estimation 20,000 hours performing the Bard, and even went as far as forming the English Shakespeare Company in the 1980s when he felt that the theatrical establishment weren't addressing the politics in Shakespeare's writing.

He has channelled this obsession into his one man show Sweet William, which I caught at the Arcola earlier in the week. It is ostensibly a survey of Shakespeare's life, but given how little we actually know about Will the man its really an excuse for Pennington to recite some of his favourite speeches and lay bare some of his pet theories. This may sound like a dry exercise in self absorption but Pennington is such a genial host that it us actually an engaging ramble around the hinterland of a figure who is some ways a key part of our national sense of self but is also quite unknowable. Pennigton is obviously a scholar of no little skill; but he wears this lightly. Deftly mixing his musings on Shakespeare's life and motivations with a range of speeches, often drawn from the less performed parts of the cannon (I didn't even know there was a Henry VI part 3).

All in all a delightful night out, and well worth catching for Shakespeare buffs and virgins alike.

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