The new play which focuses on Shakespeare’s lost years has opened at The Rose Playhouse.
For those unfamiliar with the space, The Rose Playhouse is an intriguing find – originally constructed in 1587, it sits next to The Globe on London’s Bankside. An interesting theatre with plenty of history, it’s the perfect setting for a play such as Will, but be warned – as an archaeological site, it’s extremely cold. Blankets are provided, but we’d still recommend wrapping up warm.
Will is a new play written and directed by Victoria Baumgartner; it focuses on the years 1585 to 1592. Very little is known about Shakespeare during this period, the so-called “lost years” – there isn’t any documented evidence covering when or why the playwright left Stratford-upon-Avon for London, or about the events that inspired his early work. Will presents and explores a series of popular theories, powering through these eight years in just 80 minutes.
It’s certainly a strong premise for a show, but the ideas are a bit hit and miss. Some of the encounters are interesting, but others are quite bizarre. Another issue is that Will tries to cover a lot of material in a short time frame, meaning that events of real significance are dealt with in a matter of minutes; nothing of importance is explored in any great detail before a new idea is introduced. To further add to the confusion, some scenes are broken up with extended sequences of interpretive dance which are, frankly, quite baffling.
We also didn’t feel that the mix of old and new worked particularly well. Traditional costumes and activities are set to a soundscape of contemporary music, while much of the language used is quite modern – it just never seemed to gel. Additionally there were moments of audience participation which we didn’t really enjoy – some were mildly amusing but most were just awkward. Given the intimacy of the space – the front row is actually on the stage – interaction is unfortunately pretty difficult to avoid.
Will is certainly a concept with a lot of potential. It presents a number of nice ideas and there are some fairly entertaining moments – it just lacks a coherent vision. There’s too much material here to reasonably cover in 80 minutes; ideas aren’t given enough time to develop; the blend of old and new just seems random; and we certainly weren’t sold on the dance segments. While not a complete disaster, it would require a lot of fine tuning before we’d be happy to recommend it.
Gay Times gives Will – ★★☆☆☆
More information can be found here.