William Shakespeare is considered to be the greatest playwright of all time although it’s fair to say that not everybody is a fan of his work. But one actor is promising to give his audience an insight into the life of the Bard.
On Thursday night, actor and playwright Pip Utton will perform a one-man show ‘At Home With Shakespeare’ at the Springhead Trust in Fontmell Magna. Pip is known for his monodramas. He writes and stars in the plays, which each focus on the life of a well-known historic figure.
“I had a big hit with a play called Adolf, which was my entry into the monodrama world, so I decided my next play should also be an historic character and I almost got pigeonholed doing it. I don’t mind because I always choose the people that I consider to be the most interesting from history,” Pip told ThisisAlfred.
During ‘At Home With Shakespeare’, Pip will perform some of the playwright’s most familiar pieces. “There are elements of his work – some of his big speeches and sonnets. I also get the audience to try and help me write a couple of lines in a sonnet so there’s some interaction. I also include work by some of his contemporaries, like Marlowe and Johnson. I think that’s very important.”
But if you didn’t enjoy Shakespeare during your school days, don’t be put off. “It’s a romp in the way that Shakespeare’s life was probably a romp. The bits of Shakespeare that I use are just examples of some beautiful words. Even the people who hate Shakespeare will recognise ‘to be or not to be’. It’s Shakespeare’s greatest hits, not a lecture or a lesson,” said Pip.
For this show, Pip believes that highlighting events that influenced Shakespeare is more important that performing his words on stage. “I want to be the man. It’s not an opportunity to pass judgement on anybody. It is an opportunity to be somebody. It’s an exercise in being a person.”
Deciding how to portray Shakespeare’s personality was a challenge, because little is known about the bard’s character. “ We don’t even know how his name was spelt. The signatures that history has discovered are all different spellings,” said Pip. “I could actually make it up if I wanted to but I’ve tried to make him a jolly fellow, a nice man to be in the company of. He’s a man who likes a drink, a man who likes a laugh and he likes the company of ladies. I don’t think Shakespeare was trying to create art. He was trying to make a living.”
“He was a frequenter of taverns and brothels,” continued Pip. “He wrote sonnets to both a lady and a youth, so his sexuality was ambivalent. He had a wife that he left with his children and went to work in London. Then he went on to buy the second largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon and became a landowner. He owned the gates to Blackfriars in London. And so he became relatively rich and well known. He was just the best of the playwrights who were around – and the most successful.”
So how is Pip going to present Shakespeare’s accent onstage? “We don’t know the accent he used. He came from Warwickshire and spent his writing life in London. It could have been a mishmash. He went to grammar school so it would not have been a broad Warwickshire accent but I don’t think that’s important,” said Pip.
Pip has been fascinated to learn about some of the challenges that Shakespeare faced. Just commuting the 85 miles from his Stratford-upon-Avon home to London would have been tough. “It was a two-day horse ride. I thought everybody went around in carriages but there weren’t carriages for the public, unless you were wealthy enough to own one yourself. It was either a four day walk or a two day ride.”
And Pip was shocked to discover the short life expectancy in Elizabethan London. “Most men were dead by the age of 29. He lived to 52, which was an astounding age for somebody who lived in London, which was full of disease, filth and smells. One third of all babies died. These things surrounded Shakespeare and must have moulded him. His greatest achievement wasn’t anything he wrote, it was living as long as he did.”
Shakespeare was living and writing throughout a difficult period in English history. “Whenever the plague broke out, all public places were closed down, including theatres,” explained Pip. “His theatre needed to sell 2,000 tickets a day just to keep afloat. The plague was a disaster. Not only did it wipe out nearly a quarter of London’s population, but it was also a financial disaster for the whole of the city.”
Pip encourages you to attend his show and learn about the life of one of our national treasures. It’s just the man himself, alive, in front of you, enjoying his life, crying, laughing, boasting, drinking, telling you about his sex life,” said Pip. “And it could all be true.”
At Home With Shakespeare starring Pip Utton is performed on Thursday night, 29th November at 7.30pm at the Springhead Trust in Fontmell Magna. You can book online at ArtsReach.co.uk.