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BWW Review: THE MAN WHO WROTE SHAKESPEARE – ADELAIDE FRINGE 2021 at Star Theatre Two At Star Theatres

The basic premise is preposterous.

BWW Review: THE MAN WHO WROTE SHAKESPEARE – ADELAIDE FRINGE 2021 at Star Theatre Two At Star TheatresReviewed by Ewart Shaw.

This play, The Man Who Wrote Shakespeare, truly is a labour of love, but one that is, ultimately, lost. It is completely in tune with today's world of conspiracy theories, fake news, and alternative facts. The basic premise is preposterous.

Local writer, David Cronin, believes that the plays, which for four hundred years have been published and performed as the work of William Shakespeare, were written by Sir Henry Neville, wealthy courtier and diplomat. Cronin's commitment to this fantasy has led him to create an entertainment that strives to cover so much in two hours of traffic on the stage. He hasn't quite made up his mind what the story is he's trying to tell.

Russell Starke is the only actor in this state who could play the lead role of Sir Henry Neville. He brings to the stage decades of performance experience, articulate diction, and great energy, dominating the little room at Star Theatres. It's not the sort of performance that you see nowadays. The supporting roles are provided by two much younger performers who, I trust, are paying close attention. Someone should revive The Dresser for Starke.

Emily Jo Davidson, as the narrator jester figure, is bright and tuneful, and her Queen Elizabeth, certainly a new take on the Virgin Queen. Charles Herkes cuts a fine figure as the Earl of Southampton, Neville's lover and, like him, in this play, imprisoned in the Tower.

Director, Malcolm Harslett, knows the theatre and the stage intimately. After all, the Star Theatres are his. There are useful costumes and wigs, some sourced from his Mighty Good Productions cupboards, but Starke deserves something better than the one he's wearing, and nor does he need all that padding. There's a ghost, always a good thing in Shakespeare.

There is much to like in this naïve and sincere story, and that isn't damning with faint praise, but, as an attempt to elevate Neville to theatrical glory, it must fail.

Theories about the authorship of the plays and sonnets are not new. One of the most flagrant of the recent attempts was the film, Anonymous, of 2011. This film, that Roland Emmerich directed, advances the Earl of Oxford, who is Queen Elizabeth's son and her lover. The boy Oxford wrote A Midsummer Nights Dream when he was nine. The real earl died in 1605. That the Oxfordian suggestion was put forward by J. Thomas Looney, English school teacher, is neither here nor there.

Sir Henry Neville's claim rests on similarly shaky grounds. He was widely travelled on the Continent, where so many of the plays are set. He was familiar with the practices of the Court. His name is concealed in coded messages. Real academic study has shown the claims to be false, but people, including Sir Derek Jacobi, choose not to accept Shakespeare's authorship.

I think it's 'classist', to employ a new word in the social vocabulary. How could a grammar school boy from a country town write these plays? He had the best education available to a young man at that time. Jonson may have joked that he had "small Latin and less Greek", but he had some, and had read the classics in the original. He didn't need to go to Italy, though he could have done; Italy came to him. That, however, is a discussion for a table at the Mermaid Tavern.

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