The Sonneteer

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (theatre): The Sonneteer at Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209). Review by Susan Mansfield

“Everything is conjecture – except the words,” reads the disclaimer on Sebastian Michael’s new play, which posits the theory Shakespeare’s “fair youth” sonnets were written during an affair with his young patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.

Michael and Tom Medcalf perform interweaving parallel stories of Shakespeare and Wriothesley, and a contemporary affair between an academic and a wealthy young student, lacing them together with the golden threads of the sonnets themselves. Taking on Shakespeare is not for the faint-hearted, but Michael is pleasingly understated, with both actors quickly warming to their roles.

Ros Philips’ direction encourages elements of physical theatre, and lighting changes help to signal the shifts between the two time periods.

We will never know whether or not Wriothesley encouraged Shakespeare, as the play suggests, to take his grief over the death of his 11-year-old son and write it into his greatest plays. But The Sonneteer does provide a fresh context to hear and appreciate the sonnets. They grow as the play does, sounding somewhat formulaic at first but quickly becoming dextrous, playful, poignant, sexy, the work of a master hitting his stride.

Until 23 August. Today 5:20pm.

Originally published in The Scotsman

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