After thirty years of uncontentious collaboration (Goodbye Paradise, Warm Nights on a Slow-Moving Train, Intimate Strangers, Neon Street) on musicals, plays, miniseries and screenplays, Denny Lawrence and I suddenly realised that no-one since 1632 had actually written a play in Shakespeare’s manner – with soliloquies, ghosts, songs, murders, Renaissance rogues, adulterous lovers, hangmen, pirates, divided rulers and prison cells – that was an actual serious play and not a humorous sketch or a Beckettian by-blow like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
So in one of Denny’s fortnight stays in Australia – he worked for six years in New York – we wrote rapidly in nine days the first act of this explanation of Shakespeare’s twelve Italian plays (he set no plays in Moscow, Madagascar, Virginia, Beijing or even Dublin) and his absence from Stratford and London from 1585 to 1588. Three months later, in four days, we did a second act, and, a year later, in five days, after spirited criticism from John Ralston Saul, Bruce Beresford and Stephen Ramsey, a much-revised second act. John Bell was keen to do it but his Board said no play written after 1620 was within their mandate. The cast size daunted other managements; and, frankly, the audacity of taking on the Bard, whoever he was, head to head, and using all his devices, including sonnets, plays within plays, and, like Hamlet, a murder mystery.
I then turned seventy, and, thus focused, asked Wayne Anthoney, who I have long suspected of being Shakespeare’s reincarnation, to do an Adelaide reading of it. He cast it, then made me direct it. I have directed no plays since 1957 at high school but found it surprisingly easy, and the two leads, former students of Wayne’s, world class. We then did a budget, sold some shares, asked some old friends for five hundred dollars each, and, pushing our luck, decided to make a feature film of it also (hiring Kubrick’s old cameraman Mike Molloy) and, with only two weeks’ rehearsal, an actor with shingles who dipped out and an ailing Shakespeare who might not make opening night, here we are.
‘Make voyages,’ Tennessee Williams once said, ‘attempt them.’
And here we are.