(A review by Mark Batistich, former speechwriter to South Australian Premier Mike Rann, published today in The Independent Australia Online)
Of Loves And Labours Found – Or At Least Imagined
A play about Shakespeare, written and performed in the manner of Shakespeare, seems an obvious artistic endeavour.
But surprisingly few seem to have attempted it – and certainly none with the originality and playfulness evident in Shakespeare In Italy, which recently premiered in Adelaide.
Written by long-time collaborators Bob Ellis and Denny Lawrence, Shakespeare In Italy is a lovely piece of conceit and whimsy, of jest and speculation.
Its premise is that, given the Bard set more than 10 of his plays in Italy, and that they are historically detailed and accurate, Shakespeare must have spent some time in the country and learned much of its ways.
With the use of a range of Shakespearean dramatic devices, the play places the young Will in Rome, in the 1580s, where he becomes involved in society intrigues and with the beautiful and feisty Julia, the “open-marriage” wife of the English ambassador.
Tortured and taunted, he manages to resist attempts by the cruel but often genial Pope Sixtus and Fifth to recruit him as a Papal spy.
Though the allure of Julia is strong and the noose is placed around his neck at least once, he escapes Italy in order – so we might imagine – to write the plays, sonnets and other works that made his reputation.
The superb writing in Shakespeare in Italy is complemented by the subtle and enlightening songs, and by the sure and expressive performances.
Lucy Slattery, who plays the red-headed Julia, is strong and sexy as a woman ahead of her time.
Jordan Fraser-Trumble gives us a Shakespeare who is modest, wily and charming when necessary, and determined to write and – above all – to survive.
Wayne Anthoney – the veteran Adelaide actor who plays Sixtus and is the head of the Wooden O Players that constitutes the cast – looks remarkably like Shakespeare and seems imbued with his spirit.
Shakespeare in Italy deserves a vastly bigger audience than is being drawn to Adelaide’s Holden Street Theatres.
Its imagining of Shakespeare’s “lost years” is at times funny and ribald, sensitive and chilling, and such a glorious fabrication of what might have occurred in 16th Century Rome is a brilliant and very enjoyable caper.
May it one day travel long distances and enjoy long runs – not just across Australia, but perhaps in Britain as well.
(Shakespeare In Italy is at the Holden Street Theatres, Adelaide, until 25 August 2012.)