Brighton Fringe: In this simply-staged, well-acted one-man play, we’re invited to meet John Heminges – the man who published the first collected volume of Shakespeare’s plays, saving many of them from a slow decline into obscurity. Greeting us, the “ghosts of the future”, he shares his memories of the man from Stratford, and recounts an often-colourful mediaeval soap opera with the Bard in the starring role. But as the programme disarmingly observes, it’s all complete fiction.
Famously little is known about Shakespeare’s life, though the play does advance one highly credible theory about why this should be so. Still, it’s fun to speculate, and this detailed imagined history at least conveys the spirit of the times – when the Lord Chamberlain could close down a theatre if it dared stray from the sanctioned script, and where the looming death of the childless Queen Elizabeth left intrigue and rebellion forever in the air. Perhaps inevitably, Heminges’ monologue is punctured by readings from the plays and sonnets he so assiduously assembled.
At first, I rolled my eyes at the parade of Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits – “All The World’s A Stage”, “This Sceptred Isle”, you know the kind of thing – but those were just to get us in the mood; later extracts were less familiar, and tied in better with the plot. I enjoyed Heminges’ fireside reminiscences on the life of Shakespeare the man.
Actor Colin David Reese is natural, relaxed and confident in the role; Reese lives his character, and his character lives his remembered tales, to the point that I could almost see the players strut or hear the Globe burn.