I saw this play last night at Bard on the Beach. It is set during Shakespeare's day and he is a smaller character in it. The main character is an old actor/soldier. He is renowned as the best sword in England.
It is an amusing play. Fast paced and plenty of action. The locales change constantly and quickly. Palace, tavern, prison, Ireland. Fast dialogue. Swordfights.
The old actor's life is driven along without much of his control. What little he does strive to control, his family and love, are kept out of his reach for much of the play. He explicitly refers to himself as a pawn and that is exactly what he is. An earl, the queen, and the queen's advisor all variously force him to act against his will. His only explicit desires are to be left alone with his family.
Of course the play is not perfect. The language spoken is generally modern english but with some archaic twists such as referring to God's wounds and the like. This is all well enough and makes for an easy viewing but there are also jarring jumps into very modern vernacular such as asking people to "get a room" and frequent outbursts such as "bollocks!" and "shite!" that one would not normally see in Shakespeare but seem more modern. There are also scenes that could be done without such as audible off stage urination and other toilet references. They add a little low humour but the play is light hearted enough in many ways, such as the outbursts and playful bantering between actors, and an oafish knight.
The feeling the play leaves you with is one of an out of control train, and exhaustion on the part of the main character. He seeks a simple life but is unable to gain it. His alcohol addiction central to the beginning of the piece is example of this that he eventually overcomes through his struggles. In this way it is redemptive and he does achieve what he hopes.
Another part that jumped out to me is how much this one conflict in history gets examined simply because it was Shakespeare's time. How much would we really care about this conflict with the Earl and the Queen and the invasion of Ireland otherwise? I have seen other plays similar to this which had this conflict as its backdrop. One play which centred more on the Queen as the main character (Elizabeth Rex), and so it is all familiar to me. Almost a rehash. A slightly different perspective on the same conflict. Not that it is not an interesting time in itself but Shakespeare is stuck forever in having this as one central component of his life for us. Perhaps there is something like that for every person, historical figure or otherwise. Perhaps I wish for some variation in how writers examine Shakespeare's life.
The plot of the Earl I did not think very well described either. If you were not familiar with it beforehand you might be left scratching your head about how he went from the Queen's lover and champion to trying to depose her. The Earl became almost mad and acted irrationally. He was jumping between not heeding anyone's advice and heeding advice to a excessive degree leading to his own life spiralling further out of control. There was a flaw in conveying the plot. It does not ruin the play because the plot is merely a backdrop but nonetheless this flaw makes the play feel less perfect. However one might think it is appropriate that it seems to make no sense because it is another example of how little control the main character has over his life. How little any of the characters do. Comprehensible or not he and they cannot escape. Stepping back further, looking for sense in such a conflict may be wishful thinking.