Monday, 13 October 2008

Everyman Shakespeare

Our literary festival has forged good links with the Royal Shakespeare Company over the years, though there have inevitably been last-minute cancellations. Yesterday, however, three Cleopatras lined up according to schedule on the stage of Cheltenham's Everyman Theatre, for a discussion that never quite took flight. Mainly, Janet Suzman, Harriet Walter and (pictured here) Noma Dumezweni were too polite to each other. You longed for a touch of the asp to enter their conversation. And above all you ached to hear one of them launch into "His legs bestrid the ocean". They lacked a prompter.

Later in the day, Michael Pennington made an altogether more memorable appearance on the same stage. Pennington described catching the Shakespeare bug at the age of 11, and never having shaken it off: his resulting one-man Shakespeare show "Sweet William" is a tour de force.

"Sweet William" runs through what we know of Shakespeare's life in chronological sequence, with the actor morphing into both major and minor characters to illustrate the developing achievement of the playwright and in particular its historical and political context. Apart from audience coughing all round me, which would never have been tolerated during the performance of a play, I have seldom enjoyed a LitFest evening more.

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