Shaul Ezer’s ‘The Real William Shakespeare… As Told by Christopher Marlowe’ is a lively, and imaginative dramatisation based on a 19th Century Lebanese academic, one Al-Shid-yaq’s joke. Directed by Scottish treasure, Jen McGregor, it comes to life with a talented cast of 4 in a surprisingly musical staging.
The set-up is delightfully simple, a modern Kit Marlowe academic, Laura, played by Kirsty Eila McIntyre, is haunted by a very real manifestation of said assassinated writer. Played with utter relish, and puckish charm by Nicholas Thorne, Marlowe insists on reliving his life, and on revealing the true author of Shakespeare’s plays (clue, it’s not Shakespeare in this telling.) He will do so aided and abetted by the mostly mute John Kielty, the play’s master of music, and jack of all trades as the text demands.
It’s tightly plotted, pacey, and wastes no time diving deep into Marlowe’s world of 16th century intrigue, espionage, and literary ambition. McIntyre proves wonderfully versatile leaping from role to role as directed by her Marlowe, and delightfully odious as Sir Francis Walsingham, Marlowe’s sometime spy master. The beared Kielty chews the scenery with glee, a compact Nicol Williamson doing all the acting with his eyes, body and guitar.
A regal Adam Buksh completes the cast as Marlowe’s would-be literary employer, and link to the play’s ahistorical conceit. I’m sure some reviewers will point to the fact that there really is no debate as to who wrote Shakespeare (clue, his name begins with William), but since when has good theatre ever let historical truth get in the way. Need I remind you all that Macbeth was actually a very good king by contemporary standards?
It’s all choreographed wonderfully well, a tale told in action, not exposition. The players come and go, the action ranging back in time, and back again with the flick of a blanket. There’s an open hearted joy to it all, a bonkers edge, and dedication to clear plotting that brings to mind the best of children’s television (you know, the sort they don’t make anymore.) Issues surrounding cultural appropriation, intellectual property, and the liberty to be as you will are in play, but never overplayed. These themes naturally attend the drama, they don’t need pointed at with a stick – this is not a lecture.
The play leans into the queer theorising as to Marlowe’s proclivities, taking them for granted, just as the Arab-Shakespeare ‘theory’. Indeed, if Ezer did not, if he backed off, the play would lose its lucidity. After all, this is a tale being told by a figment of imagination given life. It is true, in so far that the mind creating it believes it. There’s no sensationalism, no political point-scoring, just flesh being put on the bones of a long lost historical person.
All in all, ‘The Real William Shakespeare… As Told by Christopher Marlowe’ is a fine play for all the family (12 and up), a rollicking good time from start to finish. The ending is maybe just a little too tidy and sentimental, but the cast have a big song up their blousey sleeves to send the audience away smiling.
So off you pop to Riddle’s Court, a very apt place for a Medieval riddle of a play!