What was it like, being Shakespeare? That’s the question in Simon Callow’s solo show - not, who actually wrote the plays, or how could he have known so much, or where on earth did he go, and what was he doing during the so-called ‘lost years’?
Simon Callow in Being Shakespeare at Trafalgar Studios, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, Callow delivered a bravura turn, coming across as a dedicated polymath and proselytizer, a bouncing Tigger of Shakespearean verse and folklore. It was engaging and persuasive, and utterly characteristic of Callow’s shameless effusiveness both as actor and writer.
With his director Tom Cairns, he is now doing something entirely different, altogether more restrained and considered. It’s quite simple. As Jonathan Bate says, maybe it was because Shakespeare was a nobody that he could become everybody: “He speaks to every nation in every age because he understood what it was to be human.”
So there’s now a calm reasoning in Callow’s delivery, and he allows the verse extracts from a wide variety of plays, as well as Venus and Adonis and the sonnets, to do the real talking.
It may seem hackneyed to use the “Seven Ages of Man” speech as a structure, but it makes sense as a way of discussing Shakespeare’s profound understanding of ordinary experience and everyday life. Callow’s show is a treat and a marvel, and just as impressive and enjoyable as the Shakespearean solos of Ian McKellen and Michael Pennington. How about a festival of all three?