Shakespeare & Me
Edited by Susannah Carson
In Shakespeare & Me, Susannah Carson has brought together "38 Great Writers, Actors, and Directors on What the Bard Means to Them—and Us".
This appears to be asking for trouble, as readers will dispute whether some of the 38 are that "great" and might also be petrified that, since Miss Carson is a well-respected academic, these 500 pages will be impenetrable and unreadable.
Pleasingly, while some of the contributors may not be quite at the "great" stage yet (except in the netherworld of graphic novels), with only a couple of exceptions this hefty volume is a joy to read and will prove just as appealing to laymen as those who have spent their whole lives working in the theatre or academia.
The contributions are gently themed, which provides a degree of continuity that random essays could not.
Following a foreword by a genuinely great Shakespearean, Harold Bloom and the editor's introduction, the early chapters consider the nature of the greatest playwrights of them all and the ways in which his work can be conveyed from the stage to the audience.
The writers include everyone from graphic novelists to academics and actors including two knights, Ben Kingsley and Antony Sher, plus one of the best Hamlets of recent times, Rory Kinnear.
A trio of fine pieces by actors show Othello from very different perspectives, James Earl Jones sharing his memories of no fewer than seven productions and suggesting a new, exciting interpretation, Eamonn Walker giving an English perspective having portrayed the Moor on both stage and film and Barry John presenting a novel Anglo-Indian view.
Most of the other plays get some kind of coverage, generally incisive and informative.
Dominic Dromgoole and Eve Best write intelligently about the Shakespeare’s Globe experience from their perspectives as respectively Artistic Director and leading player, whetting the appetite for the 2015 season.
At the lighter end of the market, Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company proves himself to be a scholar, while an assortment of novelists both graphic and those still using words as their primary tool offer fresh angles.
Towards the end, there is a good stretch of female writers, including Jane Smiley and Dame Margaret Drabble, the latter harking back to pre-history when she was an understudy to Judi Dench (another Dame in the making) and Vanessa Redgrave.
Shakespeare & Me presents such a diverse mixture of styles and outlooks that it would have been no surprise if it turned out to be an inconsistent patchwork quilt.
In fact, it is a real page turner with constant surprises to ensure that every reader will learn something new and enjoy themselves while they are doing it.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher