Rose Playhouse, London – until 21 April 2018
Guest reviewer: Joe Moss
Will or its snappy alternative title Eight Lost Years of Young William Shakespeare’s Life, currently showing at the Rose Theatre Bankside, just around the corner from its wealthier cousin The Globe, is an enjoyable romp which taps into the industry (think Shakespeare In Love) which has grown up around the sketchiness which surrounds Shakespeare’s young adult life.
A lacuna which has allowed followers of the Earl of Oxford, Queen Elizabeth I, Marlowe or the Gallagher Brothers to put forward their heroes as the real writers of Bard’s plays. Talking of lacunae is appropriate in this small theatre space which has a veritable lagoon next to the current stage and auditorium but which is highly atmospheric.
Swiss actress and playwright Victoria Baumgartner first produced Will in her native Switzerland and this production, the first in English, is somewhat of a coup for the Rose Theatre.
The play begins with a dreamy young Will being informed by his girlfriend that he has made her pregnant. Needing to escape Stratford to avoid being accused of poaching, Will ends up writing for the Earl of Southampton and falls in with theatre people; notably the actor Richard Burbage and (an invented part) his cross-dressing sister Olivia.
Along the way Will ends up acting (badly), fencing with his older rival Marlowe, falling in love, travelling to Italy…. all these provide experiences which the perceptive viewer will recognise as having helped to shape his later works. Baumgartner weaves a pleasing and persuasive mixture of historical fact, informed guesswork and supposition to create a warm and romantic narrative which is not at odds with what we actually know of Shakespeare.
The cast was made up of five young and enthusiastic actors in the early stages of their professional careers, with an element of doubling-up of course. Their teamwork and zest were a joy to watch and rubbed on to the supportive audience. Sam Veck was a plausible-looking Shakespeare and carried the part with verve, catching the nuances of his gradually burgeoning self-confidence. Beatrice Lawrence is a dashing Olivia and Ronnie Yorke wrings every drop of humour out of the bombastic Burbage.
With two performances in the original French, which will feature the playwright in an acting role, together with the English ones still to come before the play ends its run on 21 April, this is that rare gem, a play which is both worthy and fun.