anne and bill

Sally Edwards as Anne Hathaway and Philip Whitchurch as William Shakespeare

Shakespeare, his wife and the dog

Birmingham Rep Door

*****

SHAKESPEARE, his wife and the dog is story of Shakespeare’s final evening. He is with his wife, Anne and is back from a long career, mostly lived in London.

The play is set in his writing room in their house in Stratford and through it, we are introduced to the relationship between husband and wife as they look back on their life together. The play is written and performed by Philip Whitchurch, together with Sally Edwards and directed by Julia St John.

Now 52, Shakespeare faces a dilemma where he finds that his spark for writing is diminishing. Anne is also growing older and looks back on their married life, while trying to remember the present.

The play takes place during a midnight conversation, which happens to be the night before Shakespeare’s death and Whitchurch takes inspiration directly from Shakespeare’s plays to directly quote soliloquies, lines and duologues to weave them into an astonishing and witty script that show how that Shakespeare’s plays were influenced from his experience and past conversation.

Whitchurch’s cutting edge dialogue presents a new context to the life of Shakespeare as we might imagine it. His script has hilarious results. When we hear the lines that we are so used to hearing within the context of his plays, we are introduced to the backstory which they came from, which produces a beautiful new plot in itself.

Through Whitchurch, there is a new and warming insight to the ‘real life’ of Shakespeare. Through creativity and excellent humour, the audience get a sense of the everyday man and not just his writing. Whitchurch gives a persona to the poet with a funny and touching interpretation of his daily existence.

It is easy to put Shakespeare on a pedestal and forget that he was in fact, an ordinary man with an epic talent. Whitchurch establishes the ordinary setting where Will and Anne are talking at midnight. With the conversation between husband and wife, the audience get a suggestion of the very human feelings of grief from the death of their son, separation due to Shakespeare’s work in London and doubts over what exactly happened during the times they were not together.

Whitchurch also plays the role of Shakespeare in this production and has the perfect on stage partner with Sally Edwards as Anne. Together they make the life and experience of Shakespeare relatable and personal. Their accents carry an air of an authentic rural 1600’s lilt, keeping to their country roots. Edwards and Whitchurch work beautifully together. With Whitchurch’s marvellous script, they establish a fantastic rhythm which is akin to Shakespeare’s plays, bouncing off each other’s thoughts and cues to create wonderful sequences of conflict, humour as they portray a typical husband and wife.

Whitchurch is certainly outrageously funny with injections of quotes and clever tactics directly from Shakespeare’s plays. He is also not afraid to shy away from the moments that are gloriously moving. As Will and Anne are now older, they address the death of their son, Hamnet, in a poignant fashion. Using a muslin shirt and a child’s toy as props, we see the aging couple, still struck with grief. Their emotions link directly to the modern day and we can see that this could be any couple mourning the loss of a child. This is only one example of Whitchurch’s clever expertise on reflecting the human relationships that we all sometimes tend to miss with Shakespeare. Whitchurch shows the futility of writing and what it means to be an artist with a set of papers tossed to the ground and a chest containing page upon page of writing.

While it is easy to remember the life of Shakespeare and all that he achieved, Whitchurch does very well to shine a light on Anne and the human emotion carried within their relationship. He celebrates her life and the sacrifices she made over the course of Shakespeare’s career, giving warmth to her character and he tells the audience that as well as Shakespeare, his wife must also not be forgotten. To 23-11-16

Elizabeth Halpin

21-11-16 

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