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REVIEW: ‘The Book of Will’ at Shakespeare North, Prescot


Nov 6, 2023

FORSOOTH . . . this is fun.

It is the type of accessible drama I wish we had seen while at school working through our Shakespearean back-catalogue.

American playwright Lauren Gunderson's The Book of Will is a highly-entertaining play about friendship, loyalty and legacy.

It takes place three years after William Shakespeare's death and is presented in the suitably atmospheric Cockpit Theatre.

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There are wonderful period costumes to transport the audience back four centuries thanks to director Lotte Wakeham's imaginative pacing and some very moving scenes about loss and grief.

But joy also abounds. Reading, Basingstoke, Berkshire

The King's Men – The Bard's Company – are still mourning the man but in the taverns of London they remember and treasure his words most of all Those inspirational words of comedy, tragedy, history and philosophy are the real gifts their friend left behind – not just for them but for the world.

So those actors and supporters decide to publish the first folio of his output for posterity.

It is a race against time to bring out a 'greatest hits' compilation like no other ( apart from The Beatles).

Indeed, like the Fab Four, Shakespeare's phrases continue to be used in newspaper headlines.

And the vast output of his imagination is marked in a simply fabulous upbeat finale.

In this two l-hour 20 minute production – including interval – we are invited to see how the Bard's best buddies John Herminges (Russell Richardson) and Henry Cordell ( Niall Costigan) passionately put together a printing plan to get the original scripts on the shelves, so to speak.

If is also a funny, clever play with a very versatile ten-strong cast who clearly relish every scene change and piece of dramatic irony.

And in this co-production between Shakespeare North, Octagon Bolton and Queen's Theatre Hornchurch there's a smashing, Brian Blessed-esque portrayal of that other writer Ben Johnson played with gusto by Andrew Whitehead.

This is a lively celebration of Shakespeare's writings that has more charm than TV's Upstart Crow and more depth than the film Shakespeare in Love.

Both these interpretations work very well but this is theatre after all – and it's where the magic really began and the dreams remain.

Globe verdict: Five stars – a modern day quiller!

Until November 11 @ShakespeareNP Shakespeare North Prescot

There is also a Must See exhibition in the theatre – a visual celebration of the Folio Story in conjunction with the British Library.

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