Many people have noted, analysed and theorised over the strong aura of homoeroticism which pervades several of Shakespeare’s sonnets, particularly those dedicated to the Fair Youth. There is much debate as to whether the bard was actually homosexual or merely a passionate admirer of beauty in all its forms and great speculation as to the true identity of the young man to whom Shakespeare dedicated the verses, the mysterious Mr W.H.
In The Sonneteer, Sebastian Michael, Ros Philips and Tom Medcalfe have taken the theories one step further; in their eyes Shakespeare was not only homosexual, but actually involved in a torrid affair with the object of his affections, whom they have identified, as have many others, as Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.
The concept of the play is interesting; an aristocratic young man, studying Shakespeare’s sonnets, begins to feel an overwhelming attraction for the passionate, intelligent lecturer, a man many years his senior. The gulf of years between them is only one of many impediments; their social standing is also vastly different, and the threat of social ridicule and disapprobation ever present. Their dangerous affair begins to mirror that which, in the author’s imagination at least, took place between Southampton and Shakespeare. By dint of changes in lighting, tempo and language the pair switch between their present and historical incarnations, showing, perhaps, that love and passion and the impediments thereto are eternal.
It is of course wild speculation – they prefer to call in conjecture – which has led them to this conclusion, however many plays – and films – have been based on less. The problems arise from the production itself rather than from the ideas behind it. It is not always entirely clear when the jumps are made from past to present and vice versa; sometimes the lights dim, sometimes they flicker, sometimes there is merely an altered nuance in the attitude and language to show us the leap. The action is very physical; the actors bound, cavort and tussle their way around the stage, in a frenzy of excitement and passion which is exhausting to watch, and detracts somewhat from the intense beauty of the words themselves, which are, after all, the premise for and focus of the play. Occasionally the lines are delivered facing away from the audience, and sometimes they are rattled through at such a rate that even someone with a good knowledge of the sonnets would have trouble keeping pace and enjoying the applied relevance.
That said, the actors themselves clearly love and appreciate the words that they are speaking and the relationship between the two, both contemporary and historical, is believable. The script is snappy and, despite the florid verbosity of the sonnets themselves, in no way self-indulgent. The unabashed physical intimacy is sometimes uncomfortable to watch but that only makes it the more real; we are spying upon something primal and deeply private. The Sonneteer is a clever idea which requires only a little tweaking to turn it into a fascinating production.
Review by Genni Trickett
A play on passion, power and possession, featuring the Sonnets of William Shakespeare
What drove the celebrated poet, playwright and actor to write a suite of sonnets about beauty, life and the passage of time and address them to a handsome young man? Obsession? Folly? Infatuation? Or was there more than meets the eye today?
In a dynamic new take on an old question, two contemporary characters delve into some of the most glorious poetry ever composed, as they weave in and out of the past in search for a plausible truth about love.
Everything is conjecture. Except the words…
Written by Sebastian Michael
Performed by Sebastian Michael & Tom Medcalf
The Sonneteer is at Venue 209 Greenside @ Nicolson Square
25 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh EH8 9BX
1-23 August 2014 at 17:20-18:15 (Duration 55 minutes)
Sunday 20th July 2014