YOU know all the hoo-ha earlier this year, as Stratford commemorated Shakespeare’s death 400 years ago?
Well, the big news is that we needn’t have bothered.
It turns out that Shakespeare in fact underwent a reincarnation and has been reborn in female form — ‘she’ goes by the rather obvious name of Mrs Shakespeare. And now she is set to return to her hometown with a new show.
OK, that might not be quite the truth: Mrs Shakespeare is in fact the name of a rather nifty show, created by writer and director Ian Wild, and performed by Irish actress, Irene Kelleher, aka Mrs Shakespeare. When Ian and Irene brought the hour-long solo show to the Bear Pit last February, Herald arts raved about it. After that, Mrs Shakespeare toured, taking in Brighton and Edinburgh Festival — garnering great reviews and an award or two.
Speaking ahead of the show coming back to the Bear Pit on Monday, 18th July, Irene tells us: “I am thrilled that Mrs Shakespeare is coming back to Stratford! “We had a really successful year last year. We got five-star reviews and the show was awarded the Argus Angel Award at the Brighton Fringe. We cannot wait to bring the show back to Stratford, and Mrs Shakespeare to her rightful home!”
The play itself is an hour of magical mirth and mayhem, edged with poignancy. The scenario is as follows: William Shakespeare, reincarnated as a woman, finds herself in a mental asylum and comes to the conclusion that she has made a complete mess of writing Hamlet 400 years earlier. Armed with a quill and beset by a rebellious cast of characters, who are anxious not to be rewritten, she embarks on an epic reformulation of theatre’s most famous text under the new title of Ophelia. Unfortunately, William’s therapist is unsympathetic. Is that because he is also a reincarnated Christopher Marlowe, consumed with envy that has been festering away since 1597?
“Anyone who is a lover of Shakespeare will love this,” continues Irene assuredly. “There’s so much you can get out of it. Those who have read Hamlet will find it resonates. But then again you shouldn’t be daunted from seeing it if you don’t know Hamlet,” she adds diplomatically.
“It’s something different. It’s very funny, very fast paced and wonderfully written. It’s a comedy with moments of real tragedy. “I’ve always felt sorry for Ophelia,” says Irene.
“She has a hard time, but she’s always glossed over, so this works as a feminist piece too. It’s Ophelia’s story.”
When Herald arts saw Mrs Shakespeare performed last year, we were hugely impressed. Below is an extract from our review: ‘Irene acts out all the roles and is utterly mesmerising. A twitch of the eye or a change of accent indicates a switch of personnel. In herself she is petite and graceful, but as she populates the Bear Pit stage with these characters she is fearless, spunky and daringly physical as she strops around the place, making the audience roar with laughter. It is simply one of the bravest stage performances I’ve ever witnessed.’
The play, while hilariously funny, also has depths. Ophelia’s identity is explored as Mrs Shakespeare tries to put her in the spotlight, but she’s such an underdeveloped character that it sends the playwright mad. She ends up bellowing the harrowing lines: “Who am I?”, mirroring Hamlet’s terrible existential angst — and indeed every sixth-form female student who has ever tried to get to grips with these male-dominated works. “Where am I?” the unrepresented girls may well rejoin.
Another choice moment is when revising the Bard’s text, Mrs Shakespeare rips out pages from her copy of Hamlet, dismissing such lines as: ‘To be or not to be’ as ‘a cliché’; the recreation of the graveyard scene with puppet skulls is also recklessly entertaining. It’s clever and audacious stuff and not simply irreverent to Shakespeare, more a glorious homage with a modern twist.
Mrs Shakespeare is demented, brilliant and totally necessary. So if you missed out last time, do go and see it again; and if you did see it, go and see how this unique work has matured in the ensuing 18 months.
Mrs Shakespeare is at The Bear Pit Theatre from Monday, 18th, to Saturday, 23rd July. Buy tickets, £10, online at www.thebearpit.org.uk or call 01789 403416.