“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players,” Simon Callow quotes at the start of Being Shakespeare (at BAM through April 14). “They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” In this one-man show by Jonathan Bate, directed by Tom Cairns, Callow narrates the Bard’s biography, aided by a few props and some subtle ambient sound and mood lighting, interspersing throughout selections from the oeuvre, as though revealing autobiography secreted in the folio—how the events from the stage of life may have made their way onto the boards of the Globe.
It’s a Shakespeare mix-tape that features a lot of the hits as well as some deep tracks, but it’s not just a hodgepodge of personal history and poetry—by blending the two, Bate refutes the anti-Stratfordians, crafting a cogent argument for how a middle-class son of a glover may have become our language’s greatest man of letters—how many of the events of his plays may have had roots in his personal experience.
Callow manifests a mastery of the material, hopping between narrator and an array of roles, adjusting accents and attitudes, wholly slipping in and out of new characters—including a bawdy Falstaff—sometimes playing entire dialogue scenes by himself. His musical voice sweetens sonorous and emotional readings, and he also avoids cliches: in Macbeth’s famous soliloquy, he resists the standard “out! OUT! brief candle” intonation, instead snapping his fingers as he rushes through the outs, spitting out “brief candle” as though it were a cherry pit caught in his jaw. Bate pays tribute to Shakespeare with his argument for authorship; Callow does it through tribute to the words themselves.
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Full disclosure: The L Magazine publishes BAM’s programs