Review and synopsis from Stratford Beacon Herald reporter Sharon Malvern.
"Simon Callow made his debut at Stratford with an extraordinary one-man performance of There Reigns Love, an original work inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnets. It is a unique theatrical experience.
"In character as Shakespeare, he performed 80 of the 154 sonnets Shakespeare wrote, with wonderful clarity of diction, expression, sensitivity and a wide range of emotions. By turns, he was passionate, angry, jealous, resigned, obsessive and ecstatic as he portrayed the poet’s erotic relationships with his mistress and a handsome young male aristocrat.
"Published in 1609, the sonnet sequence contains some of the greatest poetry in the English language. However, the sonnets have mystified readers and scholars for centuries with a number of ambiguities. Who commissioned them? Do they represent Shakespeare’s own experience? Who is the 'W.H.' to whom the work is dedicated?
"Commissioned by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Mr. Callow’s play is based on the re-ordering of the sequence of Shakespeare’s sonnets by British psychoanalyst John Padel. His theory is that the sonnets are autobiographical, a record of Shakespeare’s personal experience. By re-arranging them, Mr. Padel provided a coherent narrative of Shakespeare’s intimate thoughts on love. Although Mr. Padel’s hypothesis is open to question, (it’s one of many interpretations) it does provide a thematic framework which Mr. Callow explained as he performed groups of the sonnets themselves.
"In his version, the first 17 poems were commissioned by Mary Herbert, mother of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke (W.H.) as a 17th birthday gift for him. The poems had a purpose: to urge the young man to marry and have children, as his father was very ill, and she wanted to avoid the appointment of a guardian should he die. But when Shakespeare went to Wilton House to present the poems, he was impressed by William’s beauty, and later developed intense feelings for him. They later met in London, and he wrote another set of sonnets for the young man’s 18th birthday, as well as introducing him to the world of the theatre. But Shakespeare also wrote a set of poems to his mistress (the mysterious Dark Lady) which he had William deliver personally. To his great pain, he discovered that William and his mistress made love. Later sonnets depict his reactions and the evolution of his feelings for both.
"Shakespeare skillfully weaves the themes of romantic infatuation, realism, maturity, forgiveness and the timelessness of love through the sonnets. Again and again he personifies Time, as in 'Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come.'
"Another dominant theme is that art makes love immortal: 'Your monument shall be my gentle verse,' and 'So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, /So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.'
"And he was right. More than 400 years later, we are still reading and listening to the poetry in which he immortalized his friend.
"Mr. Callow’s performance was amazing. Reciting 80 sonnets is not the same thing as working with a plot and a cast of characters. However, he used the entire stage, with a few minimal props, and held the audience enthralled with his dramatic portrayal of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
"Director Michael Langham, one of Stratford’s former artistic directors, ably guided this production.
"Mr. Callow is well known as a stage, television and film actor, writer and director. Among his many credits are acclaimed biographies of Charles Laughton and Orson Welles, portrayals of the lives of Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens on stage, and roles in Four Weddings and A Funeral, Amadeus, Shakespeare in Love, and A Room with a View.
"There Reigns Love will add yet another impressive credit to his reputation as actor and author.
"This performance not only marks the premiere of There Reigns Love, but also the first production of any work by Simon Callow at Stratford.
"And for theatregoers at Stratford, There Reigns Love is a fascinating complement to the Shakespeare we know through his plays. "
Join Simon Callow in a live webcast at 6:30 Wednesday!