Where there’s a Will

8th March 2012

Simon Callow’s one-person show Being Shakespeare today makes a triumphant return to London’s Trafalgar Studios. The production plays until 31 March before transferring to New York (for tickets, go here) but today is also the release date for our DVD of the production (click here to buy a copy). Retailing at £14.99, the DVD features the full 90-minute theatre show, and also has an exclusive interview with Simon Callow and performances by him of three of his favourite Shakespeare sonnets. With a host of extracts from the plays – some familiar, many not (and no ‘To be or not to be’) – Being Shakespeare is an exceptionally good introduction of the life and work of the world’s greatest writer, but it is also sufficiently smart to offer much to those steeped in the plays and, such as we know it, the biography.

We filmed Being Shakespeare at Trafalgar Studios at the end of the previous run. The commission came from Sky Arts and from the theatre producers ACT Productions/Ambassador Theatre Group. As regular readers will know, our major BBC Shakespeare productions like Hamlet and Macbeth have been shot on location, but in this case we took cameras into the theatre and recorded two regular performances. The energy and intensity of Simon Callow’s performance leaps out at you, but I hope the recording also captures the humour and the pathos of the show. Scripted by the Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate (and directed by Tom Cairns), the text takes its cue from the ‘Seven ages of man’ speech by Jacques in Twelfth Night – and for each of Shakespeare’s seven ages, the Elizabethan and Jacobean world is explored along with what little we actually know about the playwright.

For anyone interested in the world that Simon Callow reveals so thrillingly, in addition to reading (and watching) the plays themselves, you should seek out Jonathan Bate’s book Soul of the Age: The Life, Mind and World of William Shakespeare. And then it is most definitely worth tracking down the same author’s The Genius of Shakespeare, which may well be the best book ever written about Will and the world.

For quite another project, we interviewed Professor Bate in 2008 – and then the project did not move ahead to completion. So we posted the four parts of the engaging interview to YouTube, and the first is below. We hope that these too are a useful complement to Being Shakespeare.


  1. Sheila Morrall says:

    Really looking forward to seeing this – just one small point Jacques speech is from ‘As You Like It’ not ‘Twelfth Night’.

  2. Paul Kerr says:

    You say Jonathan Bate’s script tells us “what little we actually know about the playwright.” But as the interview with Bate (above) itself points out, this is an oft-repreated mistake, we actually know rather a lot about Will, for all the lunatic doubters. Bate’s books are a brilliant overview, and I’d also mention Charles Nicholl’s The Lodger for evidence of quite how much is still being discovered.

  3. John Wyver says:

    Thanks to Theatre Monkey for a wonderful review of the DVD.

    “A copy of this DVD should be placed alongside the Gideon Bible in every hotel room within ten miles of Stratford Upon Avon. For this inspired collaboration by actor Simon Callow and Shakespeare expert Jonathan Bate will instantly and entertainingly provide every ounce of background information any visitor could require; greatly enhancing their visit with wonderful insights into the subject’s world.

    “Twenty minutes of extras – a short but fascinating insight into the creative process of this piece, plus three sonnets performed by Callow prolong the enjoyment.

    “The monkey can only end by saying that this is the perfect souvenir for those who have seen the play ‘live,’ a ‘must have’ purchase for any theatre lover and the perfect introduction to England’s most famous writer for absolutely everybody.”

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