There are a number of possible candidates for the mysterious WH to whom Shakespeare’s Sonnets were dedicated. Stuart Draper’s new play, in which he also stars, runs with the theory that the initials were those of William Herbert, future Earl of Pembroke.
Draper’s play is a homosexual take on Shakespeare In Love, his Bard is besotted with the young nobleman when they first meet and, though Herbert is 20 years his junior, they go on to have a full blown affair. Anton Krause’s production is rather rough around the edges but it’s performed with warmth and humour. There’s no set as such, just a couple of chairs and a chest containing props, and the actors occasionally fumble their lines but their affection for their material is clear.
Initially they interweave passages from the sonnets with pleasantly irreverent gags about the numerous genital references in Shakespeare’s plays, but things all too soon take a turn towards melodrama with the Dark Lady of the Sonnets (Maddi Black) coming between the lovers and threatening to expose their relationship.
Martin Thisleton’s musical compositions punctuate the play at regular intervals, with Black also supplying the vocals, but these interludes are irritating more than anything else and the play would benefit from their omission.