There are times in a reviewer’s life one would very much like to throw one’s bonnet over the roof and shout hundreds of bravos.
And the reason for all this euphoria is that Mr Rylance has written a winner, taking as his theme the Shakespearean authorship question.
Well, did he or didn’t he asks Frank Charlton an obsessed English teacher (Mark Rylance) running a dotty audience-of-one chat show from his garage.
Frank has had his PhD rejected for daring to question the authorship of the Shakespeare plays. But when Will himself, along with Mary Sidney, Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford, and the contentious Francis Bacon zoom into the garage from the ether, the play verges on Hellzapoppin, with controversy thrown around in practically every line.
But the great thing about the evening is that Rylance has done his research well and tosses academic savvy in the air like so many balls, juggling them in and out of this wonderful text like a carnival act.
The signatures are questioned on TV monitor screens placed in the auditorium, along with intricate documents that need a close up. Frank interviews a particularly boozy Bard, and a feisty De Vere, as all three claimants urge us to believe that each of them actually wrote the plays. When Mary Sidney arrives, she seems to suggest that knowledge of the court and its complex etiquette is logical since all three are in fact Elizabeth the First’s secret bastards putting herself foward as a claimant for authorship.
When the actors move out into the auditorium, asking for our opinions it all becomes a kind of highly literary panto. “Do you go for group authorship?” De Vere asked me as he loomed up alarmingly behind my seat. And so it all went on until the final curtain, with a last conclusion that who knows anyway- or, at least, will we ever know.?
The play is witty, gloriously funny and wonderfully well-written - the best thing I have seen for years. Why, oh why is it not going on to Stratford? That would certainly set the cat among the literary pigeons.