The Man Who Wrote Shakespeare

The Man Who Wrote Shakespeare Adelaide Fringe 2021★★

David Cronin. Star Theatres. 21 Feb 2021


Who killed Kennedy? Did man really land on the moon? Are UFO spacecraft stored in Area 51? Who wrote Shakespeare? Now I know the answer to that one. Henry Neville, of course!


According to playwright David Cronin’s research, Hamlet was written in the Tower of London during Neville’s two years at the Queen’s pleasure. His close friend, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, was imprisoned with Neville for their involvement in the Essex Rebellion in 1601 against Elizabeth I. Cronin portrays them as bosom buddies (wink wink nudge nudge). In spite of the exchange of rings and butt-grabbing hugs, Cronin pens in his programme that he leaves “his sexual preferences” an “open” question. ‘fraid not.


The stifling and suffocating atmosphere of prison is created with dim lights and an impressive arc of stonework painted on canvas. You could almost smell the urine. The exchanges between Russel Starke as Neville and Charles Herkes as the Earl are like Chinese opera to the Western ear – randomly modulated and chopped up sentences.


Herkes second biggest role as Ben Jonson is more useful as it contributes to the mechanics of how one of the greatest deceits in literature (if it were true) was carried out. Both his major roles, and more, are played with more than is needed. More successful is Emily Jo Davidson who sang a few period melodies which were also penned by David Cronin and are his best work in this production. Moving about a bit Ariel-ishly as a narrator, her seraphic countenance and sweet voice lent a welcome distraction from the overwrought male characterisations. Her Queen Elizabeth I makes a couple of appearances in a gold glitter gown with a mountain of curls and hair clasp from Hair and sounding like Elizabeth II in The Crown. Director Malcolm Harslett struggles with fluidising the scene changes and with, well, directing – making it real and keeping it moving.


I didn’t learn enough about Neville’s deception – too much focus on what Neville and the Earl were up to, and the performances were more histrionic than history.


David Grybowski


When: 19 Feb to 20 Mar

Where: Star Theatres