Three Women and Shakespeare's Will

Three Women and Shakespeare’s Will is is a nice little premise for a play. When the man himself died in 1616, history tells us he bequeathed to his wife Anne Hathaway his ‘second best bed’. What follows is a neat treatment of the wrangling over his bequest and some of the conspiracy theories still dogging the poor old fella: namely who and when did he collaborate with / marry / father?

Peppered with little nuggets of historical fact

Told through the prism of the recollections and machinations of the three women we are told meant the most to him – a wife, a mistress, a girlfriend – the script offers lots and lots (and lots) of the same name-dropping joke and as such, would be a perfect entrée to the Bard for those less familiar or just becoming au fait with his works. The piece shows a commitment to research and is peppered with little nuggets of historical fact which will fascinate anyone starting to grapple with the disputations and probabilities at the heart of Shakespeare biography.

There is scope for considerable character investment here, but it never really materialises. Even though marketed as a comedy, each woman – apparently mourning the love, or at least the willy of their lives – should be able to conjure more than an occasional gurn regarding their loss. But emotion, alleged passion and truth tend to be farthingaled over in favour of broader, repetitive character traits. As such, there is not much in the way of a story-telling arc to engage us, or sufficient character depth to make us care about the apparent plight of any of them: a shame given that the very real dangers of being an impoverished woman in Jacobean times would offer significant range for any actor and a greater sense of shape and stakes to the piece as a whole.

Shakespeare will always be a winner in terms of exploration and new treatments, but there does need to be a strong foundational understanding of when and where period language is deployed and represented if a production is to chime effectively with an audience of varying understanding. As Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow demonstrates so adroitly with its linguistic acrobatics, a blend of the archaic and modern can work quite exquisitely to both both amuse and move, to engage and educate. This is not an unsatisfying watch, but could perhaps learn from Shakespeare's own exhortation to speak the speech a little more trippingly on the tongue.

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The Blurb

After the death of her husband, Will Shakespeare, Anne Hathaway is visited by two women with shocking revelations. Both claim to have known her husband very intimately and each wants a share of Will's will. Are they telling the truth and, if so, what should Anne do? Inspired by historical characters this comedy shows another side of the Bard and the women in his life. The twist is astonishing! Starring Julia Munrow, Sarah Archer and Emma Hopkins. Written by award-winning playwright, Joan Greening. Five 5-star reviews for last year's Fringe show, Rossetti's Women.

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