To WH By Helen
Backway for NewsShopper
MUCH has been
made of Shakespeare's sonnets and the identity of the mysterious
WH, to whom some were dedicated. Melmoth theatre company tackles
this subject head-on with a hilarious and bawdy take on the love
story between William Shakespeare and WH, who it predicts is William
Herbert, the later Earl of Pembroke.
The play opens
with the Bard starting to tell the audience his story, before WH
butts in with his own version. We then flit between the present
day and the 16th Century, with both characters vying for attention.
The upstairs of The Hobgoblin pub in Forest Hill is a great backdrop
for this intimate story, holding around 40 patrons. The chemistry
between the two main characters, Stuart Draper as the Bard and Luke
Leeves as William Herbert, is spot on and you instantly believe
in their relationship.
The show plays
on the rumours about Shakespeare not writing his own plays.William
Herbert, it claims, wrote classics including As You Like It, which
started off as Whatever. The enduring popularity of the bard is
also joked about when he says: "The day my work is studied in the
classroom is the day my work dies."
set up to produce audacious revivals of classics and to produce
challenging, entertaining theatre. To WH certainly does that.
The theme of
sexual identity and the bawdy humour mirror the plot of one of Shakespeare's
own plays. Behind the schoolboy humour, hides a love story and you
get an idea of the difficulties of having a homo- sexual relationship
in the 16th Century.
The play manages
to be funny, challenging but also touching. Above all, though, it
is an original and hilarious look at Shakespeare's life and loves.
So we have
the dark laddie of the sonnets revisited - but this rambunctious
imagining by Melmoth Productions skilfully weaves the poetry of
the bard with gags which would not make it into a bad panto and
produces a surprisingly poignant consideration of what might have
The play comes
out with the idea that Shakespeare loved William Herbert while the
Dark Lady was his beard to deflect suspicions. Then the triangle
gets messy before a powerful affirmation of the men's love. Stuart
Draper has written a pacy romp which interlaces a large amount of
Shakespeare with gusto, delighting in the fact that, like the bard,
what's the point if the playwright doesn't give himself the best
parts? Alongside his clowning and wit, he shows the loneliness and
despair to give a rounded character - and that's not just his belly.
Luke Leeves is just handsome enough to pass as perfection in the
poet's eyes. He balances the throwaway humour with disarmingly honest
confrontations, totally convincing in both contemporary scenes and
those from the plays. The staging used the space well, coming out
into the audience and into the foyer. The actors managed scene changes
well with a minimum of fuss. Costume
was economically used -several gorgeous outfits seen briefly over
basic jeans and 'actor shirts'.
By the way,
it's funny! We see teasing affection excellently played through
complex relationships, ambition, desire and disappointment. Draper
says the plot is too contrived to be accepted on stage. True, it
may not all be Shakespeare, but its life. Derek Benfield UKTW
There has long
been speculation over whom the initials W.H. in the dedication to
Shakespeare's sonnets referred to. Recent research, however, points
out that amongst the possibilities, was a seventeen-year old boy,
William Herbert, whom the Bard tutored for a time. Young Herbert,
who was, apparently, widely considered to be beautiful, is now viewed
as a strong contender in arguments over whom the initials really
referred to. But who was Herbert? And what did he mean to William
romp through Shakespeare's closet begins on a cabaret note, with
an amiable singer, (Maddi Black) breezing her way through one jazzy
number after another addressing the foibles of love. The songs give
clues of what is to come, as she wafts through standards like 'The
Boy from Impenina' and 'Walk On By'' Both numbers are, more or less,
about fascination with the unattainable. The selection also includes
that old standby of childishly undying devotion, 'Paper Moon,' which
could be said to allude to the fragility of the May - December romance
between William S. and the William H., as this production proposes
that the Bard fell in love with his youthful charge, who eventually
became 3rd Earl of Pembroke.
In actual fact,
it is strongly contested today, on the part of some researchers,
that many of the 'she' pronouns in the sonnets were originally 'he',
in honour of Shakespeare's devotion to Master Herbert. Many of the
songs performed will not only bring back memories, but may, also
raise some new questions, in conjunction with the play's storyline,
about their songwriters' original intentions.
To W.H. begins
on a rather flowery, hysterical note, with the late, great, but
as Hamlet, admittedly hammy, Laurence Olivier typically rolling
his R's in the background, as Stuart Draper, as Shakespeare, mourns
the performance. That the actor has an uncanny sense of comedic
timing is immediately apparent. Draper, a.k.a. Shakespeare, is able
to generate laughs with, seemingly, a minimum amount of effort.
At one point,
the actor inspires generous guffaws with mentions of the Guardian,
lamenting the absence of the big guns with Œwho would come to the
Hobgoblin on a Thursday night?' Who indeed! Luke Leeves as William
Herbert is an excellent foil to Draper's sharp wit, and appears
to have all the charm and audacity of youth at his command. His
recitation of some of the better-known sonnets was a treat for the
mind's eye, as well as the ear. And, as I sat there, watching both
actors, I found it rather amazing that they had been so convincing
in the poignant WWI play, Not About Heroes only days before.
To W.H. is written
mainly in modern language, so contemporary slang tends to seep through
the cracks, though there are also bits of Shakespearean jargon in
the mix. At one point, the singer (Maddi Black) who'd so graciously
entertained the audience as they moved to their seats, stepped down
from her podium, into the fray, taking up a role as a woman called
Mrs. Dark, upsetting the proverbial apple-cart, by forcing her wicked
ways on the object of Shakespeare's affection,
W. H. Martin
Thisleton's lyrical music is well suited to this production, as
it is reminiscent of Madrigals, and also, manages to incorporate
some of the lines from a few of the Bard's most famous sonnets.
The play's premise of (then) forbidden love between Shakespeare
and W. Herbert could be seen as especially ironic, especially in
light of the fact that the object of the Bard's affection, along
with his brother Philip was to become known as one of 'the most
Noble and Incomparable Pair of Brethren' to whom the First Folio
of Shakespeare's plays was dedicated. Considering the widespread
appreciation of Shakespeare's works to this day amongst the masses,
that eventuality somehow makes it even more fitting that To W.H.
is an enjoyable production, and a fun night out for a mere pittance.