‘Three Women and Shakespeare’s Will’ (theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, until AUG 20)

“Julia Munrow has one of the brightest smiles in the business, I wonder if they teach that at RADA.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars (Nae Bad)

It’s one of the most analysed documents in English history. It’s a source of fascination and mystery, one of the few tangible links to the life lived by our most celebrated writer. Joan Greening’s script brings together three of Shakespeare’s women – his wife, his lover, and his other lover. They’ve come to grieve in that most passionate and sincere way, by arguing over what’s to happen with the dead guy’s stuff.

There can be few women whose memory is harder done by than Anne Shakespeare, née Hathaway. She has been portrayed as a bumpkin, a conniving seducer manipulating her much younger mark into an unhappy marriage. Sarah Archer’s Anne is nobody’s fool. She’s the iron hand behind the man, the brains of the operation who invested wisely, taking care of the home front while her wordsmith husband did battle to populate the vasty fields of empty paper with mankind’s most magnificent turns of phrase. Sarah’s Anne is the backbone on which sits the family’s head for business. She is not pleased, but neither is she at all amazed, not even in the slightest, when two potential cuckoos land in her well-feathered nest.

Julia Munrow has one of the brightest smiles in the business, I wonder if they teach that at RADA. As the first of the rivals, Anne Whateley, she has, or rather had, much to smile about. Whateley, some scholars argue, was the true love of Shakespeare’s early life. The couple may even have been betrothed or married in some form or another. Our present author picks up on the theme of Whateley having been Shakespeare’s muse, or perhaps even the true author or the works attributed to him. Julia throws out familiar lines from the canon with all the pride of a mother hen leading a healthy brood of chicks about a farmyard.

The biographer John Aubrey, as well as the satirist Samuel Butler, tell us that in his regular travels Shakespeare spent much time at the Crown Tavern in Oxford. This establishment was owned by that city’s mayor, John Davenant. Shakespeare may have been the godfather, perhaps even the biological father, to the future poet laureate, William Davenant, the definite son of Jane, his landlord’s wife. As Jane, Lemon Squeeze Productions’ Creative Director Emma Hopkins, completes the trio. Jane’s ace up her sleeve is that her son William, is possibly the only surviving male heir to the Shakespeares’ fortune. The wrangling that follows is as delightful as the scheming is dastardly. Here is a comic-drama that any master bardian trainspotter will revel in.

There’s definite room for improvement, but of those minor sorts that come with the territory when a play is tested in the unforgiving crucible of EdFringe. The off-handed treatment of Hamnet Shakespeare’s death by the other women is out of character, discordant, and deeply unsympathetic. Grief is grief and none of these individuals is as the snake roll’d in a flowering bank, With shining chequer’d slough, [that] doth sting a child That for the beauty thinks it excellent. (If you’re reading this, Joan, you’re very welcome to this, my pet theory on how Hamnet died as told in the most private lines in Shakespeare.)

What is 100% on target is the dynamic between the three actors. These are women of the world played by women of the stage with the skill, talent, and craft to pull together the many coloured strings of a carefully woven tapestry. The norns beneath Yggdrasil must look and carry themselves in much the same way Sarah, Julia, and Emma snip at one another as well as the man they each loved in their own particular way.

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