Shakespeare Inc

Don Fried
Second Skin Theatre
Rosemary Branch Theatre
(2010)

Publicity graphic

This show is a hoot! There have been a host of theories about who wrote 'Shakespeare's' plays - always assuming that the Stratford lad was incapable of writing them himself - and this is a delicious piece of froth that solves the problem to satisfy all the theorists, for it wasn't Francis Bacon, an un-dead Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Oxford or the Earl of Derby (and certainly not Queen Elizabeth, though somehow she gets involved) but it was a camp consortium or conglomerate that involved all of them.

It starts off in the Mermaid Tavern with a not very talented actor (the character, not Corin Rhys Jones who plays him) with a definite Midlands accent, a little broader and it would be Brummagem, attempting to be a poet. 'A horse, a horse' he starts a poem about a stable boy whose amorata is a mare. He's really pretty wet and prissily camp, next to him Christopher Marlowe (Anthony Kernan), trying to steal a drink, is butchly virile despite what you might have heard about him. Marlowe decides to offer his help provided Shagspere, or whatever his name is, foots his bar bill.

Enter a bunch of would be poets and dramatists, intellectual aristos of decidedly lavender persuasion who want a plebeian professional front man for their work. Patrick Jones's William Stanley, Filip Krenus's Edward de Vere and later Karl Dobby's Francis Bacon with arsenic white maquillage are an outrageous, bejewelled and grope-happy bunch who put Shakespeare under contract and, with Marlowe providing the real talent and Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, as researcher, the team turn out a series of literary and dramatic successes in competition with builder's son Ben Jonson (Tyler Coombes), who puffs a pipe to emphasise his masculinity.

It's clever, outrageous and very funny. Of course it helps to know your Shakespeare quotes and the real life facts about its characters but it's great fun even if you don't. The two young kids in front of me were thoroughly enjoying it and I doubt if they would know their Hero from their Leander. It's a joie d'esprit that doesn't bear too close a scrutiny.

When the characters are going grey and Shakespeare has signed up with a rival with less talent it hardly reflects his later plays or the years of his retirement before his somewhat sudden demise and, if you are going to make obviously anachronistic references to Milton and the Garrick Club, then it would be wise to point them up as deliberate and intended to amuse. They are not and they are not funny, but most of this show romps along under Andy McQuade's direction.

Nika Khitrova has given it a simple Jacobethan set and Valentina Ida contrived some wittily elaborated costumes from modest resources including a regal red-headed Queen Elizabeth (Maggie Turner, who doubles as the Mermaid's barmaid).

It wasn't a packed house the night I saw it but the cast were playing it to the hilt and seemed to be enjoying themselves almost as much as the audience. If you want a night out to cheer you up then this could be just what you need.

Ends 21st March 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton