Review: The Man From Stratford

SUZANNE BURLTON: ‘This is not a play. It is, rather, an ill-conceived lecture.’

Cambridge Arts Theatre lecture potted radio rubbish Shakespeare simon gallow stratford

23rd – 26th June, 7.45pm with a 2.30pm matinee on Saturday at Cambridge Arts Theatre, £10-£27

Directed by Tom Cairns.


This is not a play. ‘The Man from Stratford’ is, rather, a lecture comprising a potted biography of Shakespeare with a few quotes slotted in. One must ask why this is on the stage at all. The visual aspect lends almost nothing to the experience of this show (for I cannot call it a play) and so it is much better suited to radio.

The problem is, if you know anything about Shakespeare's life you will be bored by the narration. However, if you do not know Shakespeare's works intimately you will miss out on much of the significance of the performed quotations. The audience demographic who will enjoy this, then, is rather limited.

The staging in itself was all wrong. Children's toys atop a set of steps. A strange screen which projects slightly pixelated images of fire needlessly. A clearly 21st Century electronic device such as this does not help take me back to Elizabethan London, and the projections were entirely pointless, adding little to the atmosphere and nothing to the narration. The sound was clumsily added to perfectly alright sections and faded in and out suddenly, giving an artificial feel. Only the lighting was good, drawing our eyes in and really focusing us on Simon Callow.

This 'play' is clearly a vehicle for Mr Callow, and while the vehicle itself is poor, his performance is excellent. He is a truly great actor, who really excels in the role. I saw his ‘Dr Marigold and Mr Chops’ which was sublime and it is a shame that in this he does not have as many opportunities to play multiple characters. The quotations from Shakespeare are mainly speeches which, while done well, are not as gripping as the duologues which we occasionally get. Here we see the true actor's craft as Simon Callow changes physically and vocally in a matter of seconds from one to the other. Select moments were wonderful to watch.

Overall, however, ‘The Man from Stratford’ was a disappointment. My companion decreed it to be self-indulgent. I would simply say it's ill-conceived and a bit rubbish, but worth going to see if you love Simon Callow.