While Chichester’s main house summer festival season gets ready to launch with a stage version of Yes, Prime Minister (this year’s equivalent to Calendar Girls that they launched before West End and now touring success), with 42nd Street and Pygmalion to follow, it’s good to see that the flag for more adventurous theatre is being flown in its Minerva studio where the season has begun already.
Patrick Stewart (William Shakespeare) and Catherine Cusack (Judith) in Bingo at the Minerva, Chichester Photo: Tristram Kenton
But the star power is undimmed, and Patrick Stewart - who came back to establish his classical credentials in the self-same space in 2007 in Rupert Goold’s production of Macbeth that went on to West End and Broadway success - has returned there to re-visit a play that is clearly a private obsession. He first played it in 1977 for the RSC at the Warehouse (now the Donmar), inheriting the role of Shakespeare that had been created by Bob Peck in the original 1973 production at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre, and subsequently played by John Gielgud at the Royal Court.
But having lately proved himself once again to be a peerless Shakespearean actor - as well as Macbeth, we’ve also seen his Prospero, Antony and Claudius for the RSC in the last few years - is Stewart also a great Shakespeare? In Bond’s alluring and fascinating historical political drama, which speculates on the last days of Shakespeare’s life as he wrestles with a land grab that parallels the division of his property that King Lear also initiated, Stewart projects a properly pensive, wary and eventually exhausted air.
“Every writer writes in other men’s blood,” declares Shakespeare, our greatest ever stage writer, but Bond - one of our era’s strangely most neglected ones - is obviously speaking for himself when he goes on to declare, “The trivial and the real. There’s nothing else to write in. But only a god or a devil can write in other men’s blood and not ask why they spilt it and what it cost.” This is a writer’s play, and Stewart is an actor’s actor - it’s wonderful to have both of them back and at the height of their talents. Angus Jackson’s moody production, housed in a set of constantly changing versatility by Robert Innes Hopkins, gives full reign to both.