New Theatre, September 15
Depicting genius is hard. Credibly depicting Shakespeare, our greatest writer and finest observer of humanity, is even tougher, as Tom Stoppard proved with his lame attempt in Shakespeare in Love. The idea of making Will a TV talk show guest (alongside Francis Bacon), quizzing him about his life and work, and thereby illuminating him via comedy, had considerable merit. The problem is that the character as penned by Paul Wilson and Tim Ferguson has little to do with Shakespeare.
The writers have opted for a bad-boy Keith Richards type, where the real man was actually rather good at shrouding his peccadillos in a veneer of respectability. More importantly there is no hint of that once-in-human-history mind, and actor Damien Carr and director Pete Malicki have found no way to broaden the portrayal. Even the cheap laughs mostly fall flat.
Bacon, played by Calib James, is much more successful. Again he may bear little relationship to the real man, but both character and performance are likeable and entertaining, and once he has arrived Shakespeare can at least participate in some occasionally engaging repartee. With Hamlet supposedly having just opened to mixed reviews, Bacon is able to help Shakespeare out by suggesting “To be or not to be”, where Will was struggling with “To live or not to live”.
Patrick Cullen plays the Duke, an irritating talk-show audience warmer, and Rosemary Ghazi is Martina Fleur, the gushing host of Tonight’s The Night. Much of this character’s satirical potential is missed, however, so that she, too, is merely irritating, as are her questions. Suggesting, for instance, that Will is a second-rate creator of significant female roles is a feeble line of attack against the man who shaped Cleopatra, Rosalind, Portia, Juliet, Beatrice, Lady Macbeth and the rest.
This Sydney Fringe production cries out for a major rewrite to increase the laughs and make Shakespeare more plausible. The less cartoonish the character, the richer the humour will be.