Chelsea Theatre 28 April – 7 May. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Tony Diggle’s new play has great potential – it just needs some judicial trimming.
In the Heavens, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe and George Bernard Shaw spend their time bickering over each other’s work. Shakespeare summons Puck to take him down to London in 2016, and writes a new play about the dealings in the City.
These sections are very entertaining – the angel supervising the characters makes Phil Mitchell seem sweet and gentle, prompting some great reactions from the cast. The interplay between the players is amusing, with pompous Shaw lecturing and criticising Shakespeare’s characters constantly. Shakespeare’s visit to modern London, showing that nothing has really changed, despite his amazed reactions to the city skyline works well. The performance of his 38th play is a highlight – with characters including Enterprise, Bonus, Treasury and Small Investor – lampooning board meetings and corporate greed in Shakespearean verse.
Where the play falls down is in the scenes depicting Shakespeare’s life in Stratford – long rambling scenes between Shakespeare’s father and Anne Hathaway, and then Shakespeare and his daughter stop the flow of the production. We learn about his hoarding malt and his daughter’s naughty husband, but these scenes feel like they should be in another, less interesting, play.
Jonathan Coote is great as Shakespeare, at his best when using Shakespeare’s own words. Sue Appleby’s Puck is airy and alien, and Caitlin McMillan’s predatory Mephistopheles prowls around the stage like she owns it.
The strengths of A Kingdom For A Stage outweigh its weaknesses, and this has the beginnings of a fun and interesting play.