Swiss-Ukrainian playwright Victoria Baumgartner’s Will is a tender love letter to Shakespeare. Though overly earnest at times, the play’s wide-eyed wonder at the power of the his language is infectious.
Sam Veck plays Will as a serious and sensitive soul, plagued by voices in his head whispering of his future greatness. But how does a glover’s son from Stratford-Upon-Avon become the greatest playwright in history?
Baumgartner directs a stylish production featuring some excellently choreographed dance sequences. The Rose – the indoor archaeological site of Bankside’s first Tudor playhouse where some of Shakespeare’s early plays premiered – is a fitting backdrop and Baumgartner makes the most of its unique atmosphere.
Subtitled Eight Lost Years of Young William Shakespeare’s Life, Will is a heavily romanticised hagiography of Shakespeare, and suggestions of a more complex and flawed character are glossed over. Will’s genius teeters into self-obsession in his early interactions with his wife Anne (Katherine Moran) and he’s quick to hop into bed with his patron the Earl of Southampton (Charlie Woodward). Yet these details are quickly dispensed with in a whirlwind plot.
Baumgartner gives Richard Burbage (a charismatic Ronnie Yorke) a fictional sister (Beatrice Lawrence) to meditate on gender politics; crams in superfluous nods to a handful of Shakespeare plays; and has Will and Burbage take off on an underdeveloped jaunt to Italy which inspires Romeo and Juliet. The storytelling feels rushed, but Baumgartner’s firm belief in the power of poetry and well-placed emotional beats make Will a strangely fascinating work.