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The Bard – a man of mystery


The Chester Chronicle, 20th October 2006, Peggy Woodcock




Whether you love him or hate him, he’s a man with a lot of mystery about him who continues to fascinate – William Shakespeare.


Classical actor Michael Pennington hopes to cash in on our curiosity about the world-famous playwright with his new original one-man show Sweet William at the Chester Gateway on Sunday, part of the city’s Literature Festival.


It’s a unique look at the playwright’s work never performed before- a debut coup for the theatre and the festival.


Said Pennington: “It occurred to me that I have spent 42 years of my life with Shakespeare and perhaps could make an account of all that experience. And suddenly there seems to be more curiosity than ever about him.


“There have been several biographies this year; an exhibition of portraits and the festival of all his works in Stratford. But deciding what I could do was a huge task.”


He decided to connect the playwright’s words, including some of the greatest speeches, to events in his life. Within this structure he will also add discussion of the plays from the actor’s perspective.


He said: “I have chosen pieces that do give clues to his life and will be talking of ways actors tackle their roles and how styles and audiences have changed over the years.


“So it will be a narrative, not just a daisy chain of speeches, and I hope to vary to according to audience response. One thing I am discovering: it’s as hard to learn your own words as Shakespeare’s!”


Pennington has worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre and he was co-founder of the English Shakespeare Company in 1986 which performed regularly in London and on tour.


His long career has also taken in film and television – though he was turned down for a role in Crossroads in 1965 – and most recently he was in the hit TV series Holby City.


He has played most of Shakespeare’s great roles, not Romeo sadly, he says, and Lear is still to come. But he thinks Sweet William will have to be “the biggest performance of my life because it is giving a version of myself.”


Now he hopes the show will be on-going. He already has dates for other literature festivals and is exploring the possibility of taking it into schools and colleges.


“As an actor you are often at another’s beck and call,” he said, “So the appeal of all this is the chance to take control of your own life.”


That said, he will be running the show along some serious acting commitments: playing Robert Maxwell in the stage lay of The Bargain and acting in a murder trial in the TV Trial and Retribution series.


Last on stage in Stratford as the lead in Timon of Athens six years ago, he is the author of three books on Shakespeare and Chekhov – he has done a previous one-man show on the Russian playwright.



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