Adelaide Fringe

Fringe Review: The Man Who Wrote Shakespeare

One of the greatest mysteries of modern history is solved!

Such a wasted opportunity

Presented by David Cronin
Reviewed 21 February 2021

Set at the end of the reign of Elizabeth I, this piece could so easily have been a much better production. With only three actors – with two playing multiple roles – Russell Starke, in the lead role of Sir Henry Neville, should have provided the emotional highs and lows; the light and shade; and the pathos of his situation as a prisoner in the Tower of London. Instead, Emily Jo Davidson was the standout performer in her four plus roles as Fool/Narrator, Anne Neville, Elizabeth I, and a ghost. Her fine musical interludes contributed greatly to a much needed unity of words and action.

When his mind was wandering or when he was asleep and dreaming of his mother’s ghost, it made sense for Starke to play directly to the audience. However, when engaged in dialogues with his fellow prisoner, Henry Wriothesley, or fellow playwright Ben Jonson, both characters well played by Charles Herkes, this looked very odd. Audience members were left looking at the profile of Herkes’ character while Starke remained facing the audience – even to the extent of stretching his arms out sideways to the other actor, rather than turning to look at him.

This lack of direction from Malcolm Harslett was not assisted by poor choices in fabrics and styles for costumes, with the notable exception of the Fool’s costume which was excellent. Instead of being rich and luxurious, the Queen’s dress looked cheap and tacky with glittery green fabric and an overabundance of lace. While I freely acknowledge Elizabethan style shoes must be hard to come by, surely something other than Ugg boots could have been found for Herkes and different shoes for Davidson so we were not treated to the sight of Anne Neville wearing black ballet flats adorned with red pompoms!

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Venue:  Star Theatre Two, 145 Sir Donald Bradman Drive
Season:  5-7 March
Venue:  HAT’s Courthouse Cultural Centre, 4 St Vincent St, Auburn
Season: 20 March

Duration:  95 mins
$27 to 29.50 Conc. $25 to $26.50

Rating out of 5: 3



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