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Mrs Shakespeare was performed at the Boy’s School in Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin last month, marking the end of a successful tour; where it appeared at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Cherry Lane Theatre in Broadway and The Bear Pit Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon.
William Shakespeare has been reincarnated as a woman, and is finding it exceedingly difficult to convince people of her conundrum. These frustrations lead her to a mental asylum where she begins to unravel some of her most famous work and forms the conclusion that Hamlet, a play written over 400 years ago, is well below her impeccable standards. Irene Kelleher takes on this challenging one woman show, transforming herself from the eccentric Bard into characters such as Herry, her bemused psychiatrist, along with a host of Shakespearean characters, all of whom are dubious about her determination to re-write history. I spoke with writer and director of the play, Ian Wild, who explained how his bizarre and ambitious interpretation of Hamlet came to be.
‘This came very late and by complete accident. I had written a play called Ophelia back in 1983, feeling that Ophelia was the real tragic hero/heroine of Hamlet. I never finished the script, as I wasn’t experienced or confident enough to do justice to a play set in Shakespeare’s brain as he was writing Hamlet. I refashioned the play into a short story (Ophelia). In this version, Shakespeare was reincarnated as a man. I read the story at a short story festival and realised it had a lot of dramatic potential as a one man show. I did in fact stage the play Ophelia – just once – with a male actor playing a male reincarnated Shakespeare. This worked very well. It was only when my wife Belinda requested that I write a one-woman play for her that Mrs Shakespeare came into being. I was stumped for an idea for a one woman play. It occurred to me that I could possibly rewrite Ophelia with a female Shakespeare rather than a male.’
Wild explains how he came to work with Kelleher on this show: ‘When a local Shakespeare festival in Clonakilty asked me for something to fill a vacated one hour slot at the last moment, I asked Belinda if she might do a rehearsed reading of the play. She was unfortunately far too busy and suggested Irene as a potential reader. I’d never met Irene, but I sent her the script. She learned it all in a week and performed it at the festival. It was clear to me immediately that the play worked much better with Shakespeare as a woman than a man.’
Winner of the ARGUS Angel Award, the play has already been well received by audiences; ‘Audiences and critics have generally approved of Mrs Shakespeare. Partly this is because of Irene’s performances, which have been exceptional. The play is not dark and edgy, despite having a few dark and edgy moments. It might be that audiences have welcomed something that is not trying to deliberately rile, unsettle or disturb them. I’m not saying plays shouldn’t do this. But I think too many plays currently attempt to do so and it gets a little wearisome when there is not much else on offer. Mrs Shakespeare is serious, but that never gets in the way of its silliness, anarchic theatricality, and subversion. It’s pleasurable and not like anything else, and I think that has been welcomed by those who have seen it’.
Image credit: www.thebearpit.org.uk