Quotes from the West End
We've had some fine one-man shows about Shakespeare from John Gielgud, Ian McKellen and Michael Pennington. But Simon Callow's is among the very best, partly because it is performed with such silvery authority and grace, and partly because is skillfully written by Jonathan Bate, so that the plays and poems are used to provide a portrait of both Shakespeare and his age.
At first the "seven ages" format seems a bit familiar, but it pays increasingly rich dividends. Callow vividly reminds us, for instance, that as a "whining schoolboy" Shakespeare would have had a comprehensive grounding in rhetoric at Stratford grammar school that informs all the plays. Focusing on Shakespeare's endless procession of soldiers, from Henry V to Coriolanus, Callow also emphasises that Elizabethan society was constantly on a war-footing, and that the 600,000 men on the muster-rolls would, in terms of proportion of the population, amount to 8 million today. And there's a particularly strong section on the law that confirms Shakespeare's abiding preoccupation with injustice manifested in his superb speech on anti-immigrant hysteria inserted into the collaboratively authored Sir Thomas More.
But it is Callow's presence that binds and shapes the evening. He is very funny, as you might expect, as a bumptious Bottom or an earthily realistic Falstaff. He is equally good, however, at conveying the madness of Romeo's psychotic chum, Mercutio, the world-weariness of Macbeth or the strange otherness of the magic-dispensing Puck. As an actor-writer himself, he clearly has a deep temperamental affinity with Shakespeare and, with the aid of Tom Cairns's direction and design, he evokes his unparalleled imaginative range. This is not, as I half-feared, an evening of golden gobbets, but a memorably multidimensional picture of Shakespeare, steeped in scholarship and love.
**** Michael Billington, The Guardian
Simon Callow peppers the life with spicy excerpts from the work, making that difficult feat of tone variation look entirely effortless...sweetly watchable.
Callow's show is a treat and a marvel, and just as impressive and enjoyable as the Shakespearean solos of Ian McKellen and Michael Pennington.
It's a hell of a party piece. Callow earns a hell of an ovation
**** The Times
Bursts at the seams with Shakespeare and the world he came from.
**** Mail on Sunday
Simon Callow gives us a lively, informative and in-depth masterclass in what it was like being William Shakespeare.
**** Daily Express
Callow hands out the speeches with fine care and observation, as beautifully as he has ever done.
**** The Independent
Interview on Broadway.com