‘What You Will’ at the Apollo Theatre

It’s many years since Roger Rees was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and famously took on the lead role in its huge production of Nicholas Nickleby, but it is clear from his one man show in which he chats amiably about Shakespeare that he has both an emotional and an intellectual attachment to the work.

The 90 minute show is a mixture of anecdotes about his early days at the RSC in silent spear carrier roles (‘mime experience’), school boy howlers (Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are overcome by quilts) and some of the great speeches from the plays themselves.  Along with Hamlet and Macbeth soliloquies he has also included the garrulous Nurse’s speech from Romeo and Juliet for which, with the surprisingly simple act of donning a red baseball cap, backwards, he changes his appearance to such an extent that, yes, I believed he might be the old woman.

 He clearly finds some of the ill informed and illiterate commentary on Shakespeare which litters the internet amusing, and peppers the show with some of the more ridiculous, but also gives literary vignettes such as Dickens’ description of Mr Wopsle’s hamlet in Great Expectations and James Thurber’s retelling of Macbeth as a murder mystery.

He’s a very engaging host and there are both touching moments as well as humour in the show.  There was great poignancy in hearing about how the early loss of his father informed and influenced his interpretation of Hamlet when he played it for the RSC in 1984,  I think I would have liked yo have heard more about how he as an actor worked out how he would create a Shakespearean role, what things that have to be found in the text to give the insight he needs to step out onto the stage and speak.

It was not enough to say, as he did, I think quoting someone else, that it’s a simple recipe, everything you need for a Shakespeare play is the text and an actor.  Indeed the story he told of being removed from his first speaking role in A Winter’s Tale by the director Trevor Nunn with the comment that the words were difficult enough for the audience to understand without him getting in the way, suggests that over the years he has had to learn a great deal about how to understand and then deliver the lines.

The last time I saw Roger Rees on stage was in about 1982 in the original production of The Real Thing it would be a shame to have to wait another 3o years to see him do something of substance in the theatre.

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  1. I used to think I was a culture vulture until I met you, Rowena. It’s extraordinary how much you get to do – sounds like a full-time job! (How on earth do you get any writing done?)

    • I do my best(!), but as for the writing, well, therein lies the rub. You may have put your finger on a little problem.


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