Frank Bramwell and William Shakespeare
Seventeen years ago, Frank Bramwell’s first play Time After Time had its première in a church-cum-arts centre in Birmingham. The play features an agitated William Shakespeare, worried that he might not be able to deliver his next play on time, falling asleep and having a succession of dreams. Many of the characters from various productions haunt his slumbers. Now Bramwell has released his first playbook, Shakespeare’s Dream, which is inspired by Time After Time.
Shakespeare is Bramwell’s passion. He decided many years ago that the only way to understand the Bard was to find out how his plays and poems work. Bramwell stays faithful to Shakespeare’s words, stories and characters but tries to give the works new life by giving them fresh settings.
If you have ever woken up from a dream and wondered how various scenarios in your life have merged together into an unfathomable state, you will empathise with William of Stratford in Shakespeare’s Dream.
The book is not split up into numbered chapters; it starts at nightfall when Shakespeare initially nods off, goes through various times and ends at daybreak.
Shakespeare’s Dream begins slowly, with the playwright surrounded by trees and darkness before he has the feeling of falling, falling, falling—a terrifying experience that virtually everyone has experienced while dreaming.
His first encounter is with fellow playwright Ben Jonson, a boy actor and Philip Henslowe. The owner and manager of the Rose Theatre informs Shakespeare that Lords Southampton and Essex have been arrested for allegedly rebelling against the Queen.
It is a topic that Shakespeare and Bramwell return to as the writer fears being put on trial and executed for collaborating with the two men to stage Richard II, a play dealing with the deposition of a king.
Early in the book, Will has problems with his family in Stratford before he meets Ariel, one of the main characters of The Tempest. Together, they are taken by a ferryman across a river to a place “that is as mysterious as it is perplexing, where inexplicable happenings are the commonplace stuff of yesterday”. That sums up Shakespeare’s Dream perfectly.
Shakespeare goes on to interact with Titania, who asks for Will’s autograph which will be handed down to future generations, and Puck, who has studied the works which are “too vacuous in substance, using a thousand words when four will do”.
Sir John Oldcastle, “cartooned” by “this wretch” as Falstaff, makes an appearance, as does Richard Field, the printer who bemuses Shakespeare by telling him his works will be turned into videos, films and podcasts.
The playwright even runs into Sir Donald Wolfit who offers him the part of Caliban in one of his productions only for Shakespeare to proclaim he does not know the plot. A nightmare many actors have suffered more than once...
Shakespeare’s Dream is an intelligent, well-crafted book that reveals the Bard in a new light. It is also as baffling as any dream. There were times when I wondered where it was going. But that did not hinder my determination to get to the end and discover what happens to the incomparable genius.
So is it a case of much ado about nothing or all’s well that ends well? If you are a Shakespeare buff, it may be your dream book; if not, it certainly gives a unique insight into the mind of the man revered as the world’s greatest dramatist.
Reviewer: Steve Orme