Mrs Shakespeare

Mrs Shakespeare is a bold and thought provoking show about a woman struggling to find her own identity in a male-dominated world, as told by a gender-bent reincarnation of William Shakespeare, as she revises Hamlet into the story of Ophelia’s social and sexual empowerment, hampered both by the male characters of the original coming back to protest the revisions and her male psychiatrist’s insistence that she is delusional.

A powerful play, powerfully performed - don’t miss it.

Irene Kelleher takes the titular role with seemingly limitless energy and a broad emotional range. As the only cast member she also inhabits the roles of Henry the psychiatrist, Polonius, Claudius, the Sexton, Gertrude, Ophelia, and Hamlet, changing gear smoothly and clearly. An opportunity was missed to make Hamlet, the de facto leading antagonist, a more sinister and oppressive presence with a quieter register and more calculated physicality: Kelleher presents the Dane as pompous and arrogant, character niches already inhabited by Polonius, Henry, and the boorish lackey Claudius. At each new character introduction she ramps up the desperation with which Shakespeare is searching through these personas to find her own identity, whilst maintaining an appropriately childlike characterisation, showing a thorough and intelligent planning of the character’s trajectory through the story.

Writer/Director Ian Wild’s script contains many in-jokes and references for Shakespeare fans to recognise, whilst never making the snippets and quotes feel unnatural, keeping things accessible to those less familiar with the Bard’s work. He skilfully keeps the central question – whether Shakespeare is a true reincarnation or a suffering delusional patient – unanswered, just long enough for the realisation of the truth to have maximum impact.

The show is not without some niggling little problems. Action that takes place on the floor downstage is obscured to those behind the second row, owing to the venue’s stadium seating, and needs to be moved back. A brief musical interlude in which Shakespeare plays ping-pong is superfluous and upsets the pacing. Kelleher’s performance is scaled to a much bigger venue: some of her more energetic pieces are too big and loud and could be reduced.

But when the penny finally drops, the show’s tragic, emotional and intellectual message explodes like a firework in a rainstorm. A powerful play, powerfully performed - don’t miss it.

Reviews by Oliver Lennard

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

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 Opheila. 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?