The touring two-hander, ‘Shakespeare, his Wife and the Dog’ played the REP’s smallest space this week. Despite being contained within an hour’s play time and the intimate stage, the play grew beyond these bounds to a larger than life, fun look into the imagined life of the bard and his wife.
Both cast members were strong under detailed direction from Julia St John. Philip Whitchurch playing Shakespeare is well versed and at home within the works of the bard. Sally Edwards as the wife, Anna Hathaway, was equally accomplished. Both actors inhabit the world and language of the bard with natural ease, a credit to them and the writing of the piece.
The writing itself is an achievement for this play. The language of the bard is not only quoted, but emulated, without seeming contrived. The quotes and references to Shakespeare’s works come thick and fast, interwoven into conversation in a playful and loving look over his life. These quotes also couple with moments of tragedy, as both William and his wife struggle to separate life from the work – especially when it is revealed she seemed to inspire it.
The works are even part of the set, with manuscripts spilling out of a trunk of mementos and props across the stage. The works prompt Shakespeare and Anne to recall his shows, such as his much-praised Bottom (the character from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that is!). There is also the anticipation of if the great writer has truly retired, or had another idea just brewing, which led to a hilarious reference to a famous non-Shakespeare play.
“Intelligent, witty and emotive, as well as being really good fun!” – Three Weeks
Given the short length of the play, it is surprising how much it explores in the small time and space it has. From the loving recollections of the bard’s work, to William and Anne’s passionate courtship, the tragedies and failings in their life together, and the uncertain future ahead. Without giving it away, the glimpses into what lies ahead with age for Anne, is heartbreaking. But the end, despite being the eve of Shakespeare’s final birthday, and the day the audience know he dies, remains tear free. It closes quite simply, and simply shuts the lid of the play and their lives as easily as one might shut their prop box.
Like life, it is full of fun, love, conversation, and tragedy; and in a playful peek at Elizabethan theatre, we end with a jig at the bows. So it really is hard not to smile as you leave this compact, human, fun little play.