Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate wrote 'The Man from Stratford' as an attempt to repay William Shakespeare's great gift: the chance to define ourselves through theatre. In this renamed revival, Simon Callow peppers the life with spicy excerpts from the work, making that difficult feat of tone variation look entirely effortless.
Using nothing more sophisticated than a wooden sword and a paper crown, the two actors - Callow and the long-dead Man himself - saunter through an ordinary life, from 'mewling and puking' infant to old fellow 'sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything'. It's a journey that commemorates the passing of an individual's span even as it celebrates the immortal abilities of this particular everyman, a glove-maker's son from Stratford who wrote us into existence.
There are elements of disingenuity. Neither Callow nor Bate deals in subtlety: there is fun here and intriguing sixteenth-century detail, but no argument with the facts as Bate understands them. The props are simple but the lighting is such stuff as Elizabethan dreams were made on, complete with fairy shadows dancing. This is essentially a showcase for Callow. Just as the Bard wrote 'Othello' and 'Hamlet' for Richard Burbage, Bate has written a Shakespeare to celebrate the peculiar gifts and broad abilities of a fine actor. It's a many-faced homage, and a sweetly watchable one at that.
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