'What You Will' or 'The joke's on you?'

'What You Will', Roger Rees
Apollo Theatre, 18 September 2012
Written for Time Out


Ever been to a performance that feels like one long in-joke, from which you're excluded? Royal Shakespeare Company veteran Roger Rees's anecdotal solo show 'What You Will' is probably great fun for his contemporaries - but it's aimed squarely at an older audience and longterm RSC devotees.

Rees is a charming performer and he rattles through his Shakespearean reminiscences with an easy grace. This should be a perfectly harmless show but an uncomfortable trend emerges: we spend a lot of time laughing at 'silly' things students have said. 'What You Will' is strewn with asinine comments pulled from internet sources: 'Hamlet was written entirely in Islamic pentameter!'. It's by no means vicious but it is a tad patronising.

Rees is on much safer ground when he fondly lampoons his fledgling career as a 'mime artist' at the RSC. Despite his early days being marked by a plethora of non-speaking roles, Shakespeare clearly spoke to Rees from a young age. He also reveals some intriguing trade secrets, such as the 'Shakespeare hop'; that dicey moment when the actor's body wants to leave the stage long before his speech is done.

But the most arresting moments are the Shakespearean soliloquies he peppers the set with. He's a humble Hamlet, a spiky nurse and an exquisitely pensive Richard II. It is these moments, more than anything else, that really pay homage to Shakespeare's spirit and influence.


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