Although arguably the singular most identifiable icon of English culture, very little is actually know about the life of William Shakespeare. There is, of course, a large amount of speculation and Philip Whitchurch’s new play transports its audience to 1616, utilising known fact and imagined fiction to create a heartfelt comedy that reveals a glimpse of the Bard – not as renowned playwright, but as a husband.
With Whitchurch himself as Shakespeare and Sally Edwards in the role of Anne Hathaway, there is something of an acting master-class to be found onstage. What initially presents itself as a frivolous comedy soon proves a complex narrative, as the characters revert from Elizabethan player, happy to perform for their audience, to relatable people with universal problems, skilfully provoking empathy from an audience 400 years their junior.
The narrative is punctuated with the expected Shakespearian quotes and at times can feel as though Whitchurch is determined to refer to Shakey’s entire repertoire within the play’s ‘one hour traffic’ but the best moments occur when the characters move away from the script; when Shakespeare becomes a man and allows the audience to truly connect with his genius.
It is a play that rises and falls in careful breaths, prompting its audience into laughter and stillness in equal measure. It may not boast pace, innovation, or contemporaneity, but Shakespeare, His Wife and the Dog has a warm heart at its centre and utter command of its audience – not unlike the man himself, actually.