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Criterion Theatre
I Am Shakespeare (2018)
Written by Mark Rylance
Sat 13th October to Sat 20th October

'The Big Secret Live - I Am Shakespeare - Webcam Daytime Chatroom Show!'

Director – Anne-marie Greene
Production Photos
Frank Charlton – Jon Elves
Barry Wild – Paul Forey
William Shakspar – Alan Fenn
Francis Bacon – Steve Brown
Edward de Vere – Pete Meredith
Sergeant Freeman / His Twin – Samuel Grant
Lady Mary Sidney – Kelly Davidson
Telephone Salesman – Alan Fenn
Stage Manager – Gennie Holmes
Assistant Stage Manager – Nikki Gabriel
Prompt – Liz Hodgkiss
Design Team – Simon Sharpe
Design Team – Terry Cornwall
Design Team – Mandy Sutton
Sound Design – Dave Cornish
Lighting Design – George Rippon
Projection / Technical Adviser – Pete Gillam
Wardrobe – Pam Coleman
Props – Frances Dixon
Assistant Director – Sara Russell
Wardrobe – Debra Relton Elves
Trailer and Filming – Steve Brown
Props – Rowena Tye
Set Paint – Paul Chokran
Set Paint – Judy Talbot
Set Build – Michael Waterson
Set Build – Christopher Hernon
Set Build – Kevin Woods
Set Build – Terry Cornwall
Set Build – Simon Sharpe
Set Build – Mandy Sutton
Set Build – Jenson Jones
Set Build – Terry Rahilly
Set Build – Frances Dixon
Set Build – Sarah Basford
Sound Team – Ellen Sharkey
Lighting Team – Karl Stafford
Lighting Team – Sarah Basford
Choreography – Alan Fenn
Original music – Paul Forey
Projection/Technical Advisor – Mandy Sutton

'I am Shakespeare' is the first play written by acclaimed actor and director Sir Mark Rylance. It’s an exuberant and comic exploration of the Shakespeare authorship debate. The action takes place on one night in the garage of geeky teacher Frank Charlton, from where he runs an internet chat-room show called ‘Who’s There?’. On the night in question he asks his international audience “Who really wrote the plays of William Shakespeare?”. By the power of stormy weather and the internet, various individuals who claim authorship turn up from the past, with hilarious consequences.




Press Comment


“Witty, gloriously funny and wonderfully well-written . . . .the best thing I have seen in years”  The Stage


This amateur production of 'I AM SHAKESPEARE' is presented by arrangement with Nick Hern Books. 



Review by Chris Arnot

You only have to compare and contrast Edward II with Richard II to know that Christopher Marlowe was not William Shakespeare. So was he really Francis Bacon or the Earl of Oxford? Or Ben Jonson, or Uncle Tom Cobblers?

Many an intellectual and historian has queried how a grammar-school educated glover’s son from the Midlands could have spun such sublime words with perception and profundity. After all, he didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge after attending a top public school.

Nor did Leonardo da Vinci or Ludwig von Beethoven. One was the illegitimate son of a peasant woman and the other battled with severe deafness. Genius is inexplicable. It can even pop up in a small town in the middle of “this earth, this realm, this England”.

But, hey, here comes Sir Mark Rylance esteemed Shakespearean actor and the first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe.  And evidently he’s querying that assumption. At some length, it must be said.

'I Am Shakespeare' is a somewhat wordy work with rather too many lines but, admittedly, with some good ones among them. Had he been able to drop in on the first night at the Criterion, I suspect that Rylance might have been impressed by the production.

Under Anne-marie Greene’s direction, cast and crew gave it everything it was worth. And more.

Jon Elves climbed right inside the head of English teacher Frank Charlton, a geekish obsessive strutting around his garage to project his doubts about Shakespeare’s true origins through a website chat show.

We were at the interaction of the internet and the quill, and before long the garage was playing host to some of the contenders for the title of “the real Bard”.

Bacon, yes. Oxford, yes – a thrustingly bombastic appearance by Pete Meredith. At one point he and Shakespeare had each other by the throat. Got a bit “ruff”, you might say.

“Shakspar”, as he used to sign himself, was nicely downplayed by Alan Fenn with an accent slightly closer to Stratfordian than the Brummie blurted out by Harry Enfield as the playwright’s father in Upstart Crow.  

And Kelly Davidson seductively suggested as Lady Mary Sidney that she was really the dark lady who wrote the sonnets. Not to mention the plays, at a time when women weren’t allowed on stage.

On and off-stage in the 21st century, there was plenty of inter-action between the cast and the audience – not least through digital technology. Towards the end we were invited to use our mobile phones to vote on whom we thought really wrote the works of “Shakspar”.

Mine would have taken too long to switch back on. But, for what it’s worth, Will’s quill would have had my vote.


Review by Peter McGarry


Review by Nick Le Mesurier

Given all the fuss about who wrote Shakespeare’s plays it’s not surprising that the actual figures themselves might want a say. And get one in Mark Rylance’s witty play ‘I Am Shakespeare’.

Frank Charlton (Jon Elves) is a geek who hosts a weekly online radio show called Who’s There? The International Shakespeare Show From his garage. Aided by his hapless mate Barry (Paul Forey) he is determined to prove that Mr Shakespeare, a barely educated actor from an insignificant town in the Midlands, wrote some of the greatest plays in the world, plays of such depth, such variety, such insight into human experience that they could only have been written by a man, or men, of great learning.
Cue the ghost of Shakespeare himself (Alan Fenn) to refute the claim. His character is a cocky Brummie who is perfectly comfortable with his reputation. Without much evidence to the contrary, his claim is based on the simple fact that it’s his name on the plays. No more to be said. Except there’s a great deal to be said. Up turns Francis Bacon (Steve Brown), summoned by the magic of the internet, our 21st century version of witchcraft, to plead his case. Bacon is regarded as the father of science and a great philosopher; he easily had the erudition. But is he the author?
Perhaps it was Edward de Vere (Pete Meredith), swashbuckling adventurer and one-time favourite of the Queen, whose actual life mirrors parts of Hamlet’s, and was regarded as no mean poet and
playwright at the time. Might he have a claim?
Or most intriguingly was it Lady Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke (Kelly Davidson), who was a noted poet and connected with many of the great writers and intellectuals of the day? Her brother
was Philip Sidney, and Shakespeare’s First Folio was dedicated to two of her children. Her claim in the play rested on the fact that Shakespeare’s works show more insight into female psychology than any man’s at the time (or since). And if not she, perhaps it was all of the above characters acting
together? Shakespeare’s great brain was therefore not one but many.
All these claims to false representation are supported by the fact that the era in which Shakespeare lived was one of intense political intrigue when the slightest word out of place, whether intended or not, could get you killed. What better way to write and preserve one’s neck than to invent a
Shakespeare to carry the can, so to speak?
A neat trick at the end of the play is to have the audience vote for their most likely candidate. Before that we get a funny, frantic, occasionally rather wordy comedy that centres on Frank’s desperate desire, born out of love for the plays, to prove Shakespeare didn’t do it.
I must confess I got slightly lost amongst all the various intrigues and theories, which at times sounded more like an argument than a drama. Then there was the addition of Sgt Freeman and his twin (Samuel Grant), who might or might not have had something to do with Christopher Marlow, and who appeared as a modern day policeman and then as voice of the people. Occasionally I felt the play a bit hard going.
But I could not fault the acting. Jon Elves is on stage almost all the time, and he gives a masterclass in developing paranoia. I loved Steve Brown’s lugubrious Francis Bacon, and also Pete Meredith’s golden boy De Vere (think Lord Flashheart from Blackadder). Kelly Davidson’s clever, sexy Mary Sidney gave the boys a run for their money. Alan Fenn’s Will Shakespar (as Will himself spelled it) was a rather cuddly, bumbling fellow who could nevertheless deliver a sonnet or two when required. Paul Forey’s Barry was an endearing character, a solid foil to Frank’s madness.
A vast industry has grown up on the Shakespeare myth, so much so that the ‘real’ Shakespeare has become irrelevant to all but scholars. The point of the play, that Shakespeare is each and all of us, is well made.
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