Review: THE BOOK OF WILL At Ottawa Little Theatre

On stage now through October 7th.

By: Sep. 25, 2023
Review: THE BOOK OF WILL At Ottawa Little Theatre
The cast of The Book of Will. Photo by Maria Vartanova.

Ottawa Little Theatre's production of The Book of Will, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Geoff White, is essentially a history lesson on stage. The Book of Will tells the story of how William Shakespeare's plays were initially published. We may assume that, as with most modern plays, the plays are first published and then performed but, in fact, Shakespeare's entire body of work was published posthumously. That they were published at all was thanks to his friends, who didn't want the plays to become lost to history or - perhaps worse - to be misquoted to the point of being unrecognizable. That is where this play begins; Shakespeare's close friends and former performers, Richard Burbage (Mike Kennedy), Henry Condell (Garrett Lee), John Heminges (Ian Stauffer), and his daughter, Alice Heminges (Lindsay Laviolette), are appalled by the quality of Shakespeare's plays being performed at The Globe Theatre, as the young actor currently playing the role of Hamlet (Alex Templin) is mangling the lines that Burbridge knows passionately by heart. To demonstrate, Burbridge gives an ad hoc ritical of Hamlet's famous soliliquy. After an unexpected incident a short while later, Shakespeare's friends, with the encouragement of Heminges' and Condell's wives, Rebecca (Denise Shannon) and Elizabeth (Sharon Bernbaum), realize that if Shakespeare's works remain unpublished, they will be all but lost to future generations.

Publishing the works is easier said than done, however. First, they must find a copy of the manuscripts, then procure a printing press and obtain enough financing to pull it off. All three of these appear to be impossible tasks.

Review: THE BOOK OF WILL At Ottawa Little Theatre
The cast of The Book of Will. Photo by Maria Vartanova.



Gunderson's play is well researched, although it does take a few liberties to allow for more dramatic flair. The playwright also puts the spotlight on the female characters' influence over their spouses and portrays their active involvement in the process, which may not be entirely factual. While the history is interesting, it is difficult to stretch the relatively thin plot over a two-hour time frame and, accordingly, the production falls a little flat. Though no fault of the actors, the story was difficult to follow at first and it did not seem to advance much during the first act. The second half picked up some steam, but there just wasn't enough to keep audiences engaged, and the experience may have been better as a one-act play. Ultimately, Gunderson's The Book of Will, despite being about ensuring a playwright's work is not forgotten, isn't all that memorable itself.

The Book of Will is in performances at Ottawa Little Theatre through October 7th. Click Click Here for more information or to purchase tickets.


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