Rose Playhouse, London – until 21 April 2018
Fan fiction has probably been around for as long as celebrity culture has existed, with the internet playing a pivotal role in its dissemination. But sharing her love of Shakespeare online isn’t enough for playwright Victoria Baumgartner, who brings her unbridled devotion to Shakespeare to the stage. This speculative, queer narrative presents Shakespeare’s ‘lost years’, between 1585 and 1592, with an earnest devotion that appeals to Shakespeare fans but lacks finesse and depth.
Contemporary physical theatre and dance sequences intersperse short scenes that together create the effect of a dream sequence or montage of memories. The frustrated young glover and poet in Stratford, wholly in love with Ovid and his wife Anne, is encouraged to follow his dreams.
Patronage and affection from the Earl of Southampton, unexpected pregnancies, and meeting travelling player Richard Burbage are some of the events that drive the narrative forward that eventually sees Shakespeare credited at the London theatre.
Scenes are short and snappy, with most of the subplots disconnected from each other. Though they form a fairly coherent wider picture, there’s not a great deal of narrative justification at work.
Like Shakespeare, Baumgartner takes liberties with history. This generally makes for better stories, but some choices – like Hamlet being Will’s first play – are too untenable even though it’s linked to the death of his son.
She’s painted the writer in a sweetly idealistic light, with his conflicted love for both his wife and the Earl the most interesting aspect of the story, and one that’s backed up by his sonnets and scholarship. But it’s not endowed with any more or less importance than any other event in the story, and the impact it has on the rest of Will’s life is downplayed.
There are numerous nice ideas in the script, but the resulting effect is just that – nice. Nothing here is groundbreaking or fully developed, and the anomalous mix of styles indicates a lack of focus and precision in both the script and direction.