Sweet William

Devised and performed by Michael Pennington
Trafalgar Studios 2
(2008)

Michael Pennington

In a solo performance, akin to a stimulating lecture, Michael Pennington journeys through the limited facts known about William Shakespeare's life, drawing on the wealth of his plays as seen through an actor's eyes.

Pennington opens with the impact Shakespeare had on Berlioz, the composer who never heard of Shakespeare before seeing Hamlet. The experience for Berlioz was a consuming love for the playwright and his characters. As for Pennington, it all began when he was eleven years old. His parents took him to see Macbeth. It was in the 1950s and Paul Rogers played the lead. Pennington manages vividly to convey that first experience that led to him to dedicating 20,000 hours of his life to performing plays by the greatest playwright while also writing about the bard.

He introduces the audience to Shakespeare's biography and fills in gaps, suggesting that the "missing years" between William's departure from Stratford and arrival in London may have been occupied by him as an itinerant actor who was frustrated by the poor scripts that he had to use.

Shakespeare's arrival to London is noted by one Robert Greene, a contemporary playwright's unflattering reference to "an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide".

As a Shakespearian actor, Pennington vividly voices characters extracted from the diverse gallery of plays. He amuses and stimulates with a well versed actor's insight into the Master's characters and plays. He touches on the political elements embedded in every play, pointing to Romeo and Juliet as an example.

This is a celebration of Pennington's career as a Shakespearian actor as much as an ode to his much loved and cherished playwright. The play's title emphasizes the personal bond.

The programme provides a pictorial journey through Pennington's career as a Shakespearian performer from Angelo in Measure for Measure in 1974 to the title role in Timon of Athens in 2000.

The dramatic element is in the delivery. Ideas and characters are presented without any theatrical props; it is all in his voice and gentle gestures which successfully engage interest throughout the show. However, this production assumes a shared passion for the hero and some background knowledge of the plays.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson