Erin Lawson

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.

Related: The Inheritance: An extraordinary and astonishing look at gay lives – review

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.