Writer: George Dillon
Director: Denise Evans
Reviewer: Rosie Revell
What if Shakespeare didn’t actually write the plays and sonnets he is famous for? What if they were actually written by Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford? This intriguing premise has a devoted following and has obsessed historians for years. It is from this premise that actor/writer George Dillon brings to the stage this absorbing and utterly compelling one man show. The Man Who Was Hamlet skilfully tells De Vere’s life-story and in doing so makes a credible case for the alternative Shakespeare.
De Vere was an aristocrat who certainly lived life to the full. His early life eerily echoed Hamlet’s with the death of a father, the indecently quick remarriage of his mother and the killing of a servant. He was also a scandalous figure; fathering a child out of wedlock, sleeping with the Queen, and abandoning his wife. He fought in the Armada, was imprisoned in The Tower, was captured by pirates and kept 2 companies of players to perform his plays. He disappeared from court life around 15 years before his death and it is noticeable his writing output disappeared when Shakespeare first appeared. He is certainly the leading candidate for being the real Bard.
In Dillon’s hands the whole case is laid out before the audience and although he ends stating he had to leave the decision to us, I defy any audience not to start to be a little convinced. Dillon shares the stage with only a sword, a book and a skull and it is a masterful performance. Dillon not only inhabits the rôle of De Vere so completely but he also takes on the other characters with ease. He flits from character to character, episode to episode with breakneck speed this means that the 90 minute running time is barely noticed by the audience. His energy does not seem to dip at all.
The only real minor niggles come from the lack of humour. There are touches but not enough and that it was such a scandalous life not a great deal actually happened, it is all told in the dialogue. It is very clever dialogue. The script cleverly merges well known Shakespearean quotations with Dillon’s words and it can be a little intimidating to try and catch all the phrases and references.
Niggles aside, from the very beginning Dillon’s performance is so spellbinding that the eye rarely strays from the stage lest we miss some nuance. Dillon is not afraid of portraying such a selfish, childish character and by the end helps him become likeable. It is on this stage that you can really appreciate the very tight direction and timing to the sound and lighting which add to the overall ambience of the show. The Man Who Was Hamlet is an intriguing, thought provoking piece that is as impressive as it is simple. Well worth its ticket price.