CentralComedyDramaReviewShakespeare 400

Mrs Shakespeare – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Writer and Director: Ian Wild
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

A character lies sleeping in doublet and hose, holding a quill pen. Clearly, we are in Tudor times. But look around – there are medical screens and a distinctly modern-looking desk.

The sleeping figure awakens and introduces itself as William Shakespeare. We suffer considerable confusion – this person is clearly female, but as she notes, she is the reincarnation of Shakespeare – had she arrived bald and with a goatee, that would merely be an encore. And the screens and desk belong to her therapist, who seems to lack the patience required to deal with people with, as he calls them, delusions.

William Shakespeare – for that is her name, given to her at birth by her Shakespeare-obsessed parents who even decorated her childhood room with pages from the complete works – keeps a diary of her interactions. And the whole comes dramatically to life when she is asked if she hears voices in her head. Yes! All of Shakespeare’s characters are living inside her head, each screaming to be rewritten as the star of their own play. She is working on a revision to Hamlet from Ophelia’s point of view, except that Ophelia’s voice in her head is inexplicably quiet and lost. Ophelia is, she suggests, so underwritten she doesn’t know who she truly is.

Irene Kelleher plays the eponymous Mrs Shakespeare. A natural physical actor, she brings out the humour in Ian Wild’s script with impeccable comic timing and there are several laugh-out-loud moments, notably when her therapist appears to try a radical alternative to electric shock therapy. The characters inhabiting her head are brought to comedic life as they make their case for more prominence. Wild also directs, maintaining a cracking pace through the comedy sections but allowing some reflection in others. For this is a play that works on several levels. Even while laughing at the therapist’s lack of empathy and finding William’s delusions ever more ludicrous, there are questions raised in darker sections about mental health and parenting. While this aspect is the minor key to the comedy’s major, it nevertheless adds a further dimension to William’s character, making her more rounded and sympathetic.

Wild is also a composer and has composed incidental music that supports the moods and story, although it does seem to sometimes start and end abruptly. The action is further supported by the efficiently designed touring set from Davy Dummigan and Dowtcha Puppets.

A beautifully layered product all wrapped up within the hour, making us laugh and ask questions of ourselves, made all the better by Kelleher’s storming performance. A little gem.

Runs until 16 July 2016 and on tour | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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