The Man Who Wrote Shakespeare: Was This Revered Writer One Or Many? ~ Adelaide Fringe 2021 Interview
[THEATRE/Musical Theatre ~ SA]
by Adrian Miller.
A bard by any other name… We have often heard it questioned whether William Shakespeare was the actual creator of many of the works which have been attributed to him. Now, a new play to be presented in the Adelaide Fringe aims to throw some light on the actual identity of this most revered writer…
We speak with David Cronin, writer and performer in this new theatrical work, and begin by asking him when he first began to suspect that someone else had written works attributed to William Shakespeare.
“While I was reading all the biographies about him I realised that they all repeat the same tales, and they’re like fairy stories, they’re fiction with no facts to verify them. I learned that for over two hundred years many educated people have questioned whether William Shakespeare could have written those works attributed to him.”
What convinced you that the protagonist in your show was the correct candidate for the credit for writing Shakespeare’s plays?
“This time the evidence is clear, David says. “The author’s library, his notebooks and reference books all survive, along with many of his letters. His library is in a big, stately country house; I’ve been there. His life fits the written works like a glove. For example, we can connect the many words he used in a letter he wrote with the words he used in a play written about the same time.
“When you do this over and over again, the cogent evidence mounts past the probable to satisfy the strongest scientific methods you can apply. As a prominent politician, diplomat and businessman, country squire, Justice of the Peace, etc. he was constantly writing letters, many of which survive as official documents.”
In the show, both in the spoken word and in the songs, you have remained loyal to the language of the time. This must have been difficult to write?
“Yes,” David says. “I asked several mentors to edit the drafts and check for anachronisms – modern language can creep in. But then, this author did invent thousands of new words that we still use today!”
You are known as a songwriter, a clown doctor and presenter of Laughter Yoga workshops. But this is your first play?
“No, I’ve written and produced 15 children’s plays, and I’ve also written four screenplays, some of which got more development interest than others,” he says. “They’ve taught me the craft, and for years I was on the board of SAWT (SA Writers Theatre) group which workshopped and presented each other’s plays and scripts.”
David tells us that he spent two or three years researching and writing The Man Who Wrote Shakespeare.
“There are less than ten books written about the man, which I re-read. So most of the research was what critics have written about Shakespeare, his main themes, his ideas, his politics, etc. Remember, when they talk about ‘Shakespeare’ they are talking about the work, not the man. I looked for what they agree on about his work, what are the key meanings, and how we all benefit from it, for example by better understanding what it is to be human. And of course I revisited all the plays, poems and sonnets.
“There is a whole swag of dedicated researchers who continue to discover more about the true author as we speak,” David says. “I’m in touch with them around the globe, and we’ve had several gatherings/mini-conferences about the subject in Melbourne, and now online. I ran the play drafts past them too. They support and inform much of what forms the background for this play.”
Was there ever a temptation to present the play as a comedy? Or was the setting of The Tower Of London a bit prohibitive in that regard?
“Yes indeed. Given my background in comic physical theatre – clowning – it was the first temptation,” David says. “I made a whole string of options, including a ‘Shakespeare Code’ style thriller, with car chases, narrow escapes – set in our time! In the end the focus is on him: What was it that set him apart from the other 24 writers in his day? So I set the play at that critical period in his life that made him not just a wonderful writer up until then, but turned him into this great one, who many regard as the greatest writer in the world.”
There are songs in the show which were somewhat abbreviated in the version you presented at Star Theatres in 2020. Will we see the full set of songs at Adelaide Fringe 2021?
“I am thrilled that this time all ten songs are included in full!” he says. “They lighten up the darkness and confinement of The Tower Of London, and they give people time to relax in between the dialogue scenes. They’re done with minimum lute accompaniment, and they elaborate on the plot.”
The Man Who Wrote Shakespeare has a small cast of three – most playing multiple roles.
“The Bard is played by Russell Starke. He has extensive experience in too many roles to reel off. He was also a theatre critic and art gallery owner, a high-flyer who has much in common with this character, so he revels in inhabiting him totally.
“Emily Jo-Davidson has taken the lead in various musicals, and has just finished Honours at Flinders Uni Drama,” David says. “She plays The Fool, and also the writer’s muse. Then she plays his wife, and also the queen of England, Elizabeth I, with a delightful display of dancing along a fine line between comedy and dignity.
“The third member of the cast is Charles Herkes who plays several of the queen’s advisors. His main role is as the writer’s patron, a younger man, an Earl who finds himself sentenced to be in The Tower, right alongside the poet whose work he loves so much. Oh, and he also plays Ben Jonson, the ‘ink’ between the writer and the theatre man Will Shakespeare.”
What do you think people will enjoy most about this show?
“How the characters come to life so intensely, how real they are for this magical bubble we call theatre.”
What reactions have you had to the play so far?
“A few people were upset that I focus only on this man and just assume he is the real deal, without debating the authorship question,” David says. “But there are countless debates about this already online, even plays about it, and that argument will drag on forever, I don’t doubt.
Mostly people marvel at the excellent performances and the professional production qualities, and they are grateful and curious to learn more about this man.
“I’ve got plenty of feedback and comments like, ‘A marvellous tale crisply delivered by a talented troupe. Don’t miss your chance to see this charming production,’ by Jane Lomax-Smith. Others say, ‘compelling to watch,’ and, ‘He changes his character as rapidly as his costumes. His final scene is intense and a highlight,’.”
Will people be convinced by the end that the premise of the play is correct?
“My intention is not to convince people or change their belief. Each of us has to do that alone. I hope to pique their interest by telling the truth in an entertaining way. Sugaring the pill. I’m simply presenting this new story to them, believe it or not. I believe that theatre’s role, and that of any art is not to provide answers but to pose questions well, and yes, to challenge the status quo.
“Belief is a funny thing,” he says. “Do we actually choose what we believe? What we think we believe is often actually adopted from others - our parents, teachers and society. We don’t make a conscious decision to believe, we simply go along with the conventionally accepted view. As to his authorship of the works, I leave that up to you and your belief.”
Is there anything further you would like to bring to our attention?
This author and William Shakespeare collaborated to bring the plays to life,” David says. “The writer and the theatre man needed each other to do this. I believe they will co-exist again one day, side by side, as they did then. Now that the true author is identified, we can revisit his works and follow the connections between his life and his writings.
“I invite you to enjoy this new opportunity and hear once again these wonderful words we all agree will continue to thrill us, and many more to come.”
The Man Who Wrote Shakespeare performs at Star Theatres – Star Theatre Two, at various times, from Fri 19 Feb until Sun 7 Mar, and at HAT's Courthouse Cultural Centre Auburn from 8pm on Sun Mar 20.
Book at FringeTIX on 1300 621 255 and adelaidefringe.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
New show added: 7.30pm Fri 19th Mar Wallaroo Town Hall. Tix available from Copper Coat Visitor Centre and online HERE.