Saturday, September 22, 2018


Shakespeare and His Mistress: Emilia and Wil by Paul Kauffmann. Directed by Cate Clelland. Australian Players ACT. Big Band Room, ANU School of Music. 8pm. Sept 21 – 22 and 29.

Given that so little is actually known about Shakespeare, his life or any relationship he may or may not have had with poet Emilia Bassano-Lanier, creating a play about this gives a playwright a bit of a blank slate.

What’s on show here is not a play. It’s more of a concert. It opens with a prologue by the playwright who seems to be dressed as Sir Henry Irving. There’s a succession of short scenes between which a small ensemble plays music by David Pereira that pays some elegant tribute to the music of the time. 

A certain amount of unnecessary set changing takes place. Occasionally there are some period dances courtesy of John and Aylwen Gardiner-Garden. Sometimes William and Emilia burst into song.

What script there is, is heavily loaded with quotation and gives the actors very little more to work with.

A flat floor space like the Big Band Room makes for considerable sight line difficulties. And I’m not sure how well the spoken word would have been heard at the back. I occasionally had trouble in the second front row.

Some of the costumes are fine but some choices struggle to arrive at the right style and century. Shakespeare’s bed arrives at one stage suggesting he might have shopped at IKEA or its ilk for the best one. (Presumably the second best one is still with Anne Hathaway in Stratford)

There are plenty of plays and films that successfully buy right into the imagining of Shakespeare’s life and times and relationships.

(…George Bernard Shaw’s one-acter The Dark Lady of the Sonnets…
…the Dr Who episode The Shakespeare Code [albeit with alien witches and space travel, but the banter between Shakespeare , the Doctor and companion Martha is excellent]
…the film Shakespeare in Love [co-written by Tom Stoppard of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead fame]…)

 This does not look to be one of them.

Alanna Maclean