Shaking Spears for Shakespeare

Bardy Maguire, adapted and presented by Brian Wright
Kingsley Productions at Greenwich Playhouse

The Greenwich Playhouse is an ideal location for a one-person show though, strange to say, in all my visits this is the first one I've seen there! The performer is close to the audience, and it's quite an intimate experience. Every time Brian Wright caught my eye, I felt myself smiling and nodding, as if encouraging him to tell me more, and I'm sure everyone else in the audience reacted in the same way.

The show is a substantial one, with two 50-minute sections, and is thus a tour de force in line-learning alone. Being a painfully slow line-learner myself, I caught myself enviously wondering how long it took Brian to learn it. On discovering from the programme that he spent many a happy hour 'adjourning to pubs' with the writer, at least the many theatrical anecdotes would already be familiar, and flow trippingly off the tongue.

Bardy Maguire (the nickname, we are told, stemming from his bardomania) was an actor himself, and the show consists of an amusing account of his experiences as a player of minor parts such as second gravedigger and various one-line messengers, skilfully interwoven with an informative and entertaining summary of Shakespeare's life and work, including all the recent discoveries about a possible Catholic connection. He argues convincingly for the significance of the minor character's contribution to the meaning of the play as a whole. My only quibble would be the repeated use of the words 'yer man' when referring to Shakespeare -- once or twice is fine, but I think it just needs to be varied a little so that it doesn't become too much of a verbal mannerism.

The show takes place in a pub setting, with table, stool, beer mat, glass of G&T (replenished during the interval) and, rather surreally, a full-size dummy model of a messenger from King John, courtesy of the Abington Museum, Northampton. Brian Wright uses a range of accents to portray his characters, both male and female -- I particularly enjoyed Mistress Quickly describing the death of Falstaff, and an inspired impersonation of Peter Snow giving a war update. He includes a number of songs too, accompanying himself on a range of historically authentic percussion instruments such as would be owned by the clients of wayside inns in Elizabethan days.

Brian Wright studied at Oxford and RADA. He has worked in repertory, with the RSC and in the West End. He is also a playwright and author. Bardy Maguire (1932-2001) trained at Webber Douglas, worked in repertory, then moved over to writing plays (Treble Chance) and TV scripts (Dr Who, Casualty). Matthew Walters, the director, is a director and radio producer who has also played minor parts in Shakespeare plays and films.

Shaking Spears for Shakespeare was first performed in February 2003 at the Cripps Studio, Northampton. I hope it will tour widely, for it deserves a wide audience.

Reviewer: Gill Stoker

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