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Being Shakespeare

First Published 4 March 2014, Last Updated 6 August 2014

What’s it all about?

If I said the world’s most renowned playwright, would that surprise you? In Being Shakespeare, writer Jonathan Bate has, with an abundance of warmth and wit, blended a traditional telling of Shakespeare’s history with a selection of his most famous or fitting speeches, extracts and sonnets, most prominently Jaques’ seven ages of man from As You Like It.

Who’s in it?

An actor whose own history is littered with Shakespearean work and who has a growing reputation for one man shows, Simon Callow holds the stage single-handedly.

As narrator, the Four Weddings And A Funeral star, in sports jacket and slacks, puts one a little in mind of an enthusiastic lecturer whose passion for his subject is undiminished after decades of teaching.

As performer, he flits from child to elder statesman, love-struck woman to war-enlivened man, offering a gob-smacked Miranda, swaggering Orlando, croaking Falstaff, avuncular Henry V and a collection of mechanicals that can’t fail to raise a smile.

What should I look out for?

The fleeting glimpse of Callow’s hilarious Bottom that leaves you wanting more. And Bruno Poet’s subtly powerful lighting design which, every now and then, will illuminate director/designer Tom Cairns’ set – part schoolroom, part forest, part 1920s schoolboy bedroom – in a way that is as close to perfect as possible.

In a nutshell?

Master storyteller Callow revels in telling the master’s story.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@aojwFL_BFC: Inspired, moved & mesmerised by @SimonCallow in@provbate’s wonderful #BeingShakespeare @HPinterTheatre

@canadian_turtle: Impressed by Being Shakespeare; a fascinating and humorous insight into the Bard’s life and work with a great performance from @SimonCallow

Will I like it?

If you’re hoping for an in-depth exploration of the conspiracy theories surrounding Shakespeare and his work, you may be disappointed.

If you like to learn a little with your entertainment, fancy a ‘top ten’ list, bite-sized version of Shakespeare’s greatest hits or enjoy the feeling of being talked through a tale by a great orator, you and Being Shakespeare will go together like Romeo and Juliet (but with a happier ending).

Being Shakespeare is playing until 15 March. You can book tickets through us.


Being Shakespeare previously played at the Trafalgar Studio 1 in June 2011 when the following First Night Feature by Caroline Bishop was published:

Following his one-man show about the life and works of Charles Dickens, Simon Callow now turns his attention to William Shakespeare, a playwright who has had more than a little impact on the actor’s life.

A former Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre performer who began his life in theatre as a box office worker at Laurence Olivier’s Old Vic, Callow has been well placed to watch and participate in many great Shakespeare productions.

Shakespeare, we are told, also began his life in theatre as something of a bystander, helping out backstage with Burbage’s troupe of players at The Theatre in Shoreditch.

But that comes later. Callow’s narrative – written by Shakespeare biographer Jonathan Bate – starts at the beginning of young William’s life, describing the influences and experiences that made this middle class grammar school boy from Stratford the most famous playwright of all time.

Structured around the famous seven ages of man speech from As You Like It, Callow describes Shakespeare’s own seven ages, taking us from his Latin-learning schooldays to his work at his father’s glove shop to his marriage, at just 18, to Anne Hathaway. As we hear of his rise in London – from backstage help to bit-part player to resident playwright of what would become the King’s Men under James I – we also learn of the later influences that shaped his work: the death of his son, Hamlet, the effect of war, and the birth of his granddaughter. Callow charts all this in a format which combines factual information with imagined scenes from Shakespeare’s life and verse from his plays, showing how his reality may have impacted on his imagination.

Played out on a minimalist set, with occasional bursts of music and the odd dramatic prop, the responsibility is firmly on Callow to engage us for two hours. Though he takes a while to get into his stride, this accomplished actor performs with natural charm and gentle wit, giving us an interesting and touching portrait of the man behind the playwright.


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