Writer: Nick Dear
Director: Sam Hodges
Reviewer: David Jobson
It is no mystery why William Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest writers “for all time”. What has mystified people for many years, though, is the man himself. Was he a Catholic? Why did he go to London to become a playwright? Did he actually write the plays attributed to him?
Now Nuffield Theatre has set out to uncover the man who was perhaps the bard’s most affectionate of admirers, the Earl of Southampton. Written by Nick Dear, Dedication asks us to consider how close the two were.
Directed by artistic director, Sam Hodges, the set brings to mind his previous hit, A Number, involving an in-the-round staging involving both stage and auditorium. The difference is that the audience is not sent to separate rooms but sent into one open space
So what can be said about their relationship when there is no evidence to explain all? Shakespeare himself says that history keeps revolving and changing and this idea becomes the structure of the play on Alex Lowde’s set of revolving and shifting mirrored floors and pillars.
Dedication offers three different interpretations of the relationship that it cycles between. The first sees them as best friends. The second sees a formal one between patron and writer. The third sees the pair as lovers.Cue the unbuttoning of the doublets and dressing up in dresses every time the play revolves back to the latter interpretation. At one point Tom Rhys Harries even strips down to his shorts.
The two actors carry this production. Tom MacKay’s rustic and rugged Shakespeare nicely contrasts with Harries’ vain and effeminate Southampton.
At first, the play seems to aimlessly circle around these three interpretations. However, by the midway point, you begin to wonder who the two men really are, especially Shakespeare.How much does he want to reveal about himself and Southampton. Was there a close relationship after all? Is Shakespeare a liar?
Unfortunately, the play cops out by choosing one of the different relationships. No prizes for guessing which, because Nick Dear shows more interest in the one over the rest.By not remaining ambiguous the problem is two-fold. Firstly you wish the play had stuck to the one and given it depth. Two, the alternatives are sketchy and the whole mystery is rendered pointless
Some of the production values still need ironing out and the staging did lead to some audibility issues. Still, it is clear that Sam Hodges’is re-treading A Number’s success, and it is fascinating to see McKay and Tom Rhys Harries offer different versions of Shakespeare and Southampton.
The difference between this and A Number, however, is that Dear cannot stick to his guns and aimlessly takes the obvious route out. All you are left with is a play that flip-flops between one story and a mystery.
Running until 8 October 2016 | Image: Luke MacGregor