The scene unfolds in Shakespeare’s garden, Stratford. The poet has retired from London to be with wife, Anne Hathaway and daughter, Judith. All sounds rosy and yet it is not. Writer Edward Bond has taken clues from scraps of facts we know about Shakespeare’s life to build a darker portrait.
Shakespeare’s villainy begins with his refusal to block plans to turf out local poor folk from his lands. It’s imagined here as something that tortures Shakespeare in his final days but we’re not convinced. Stewart plays him as a bystander, a liminal figure on the scenes of brutality who doesn’t act on his observations. His indirect involvement to the tragedies seems too flimsy evidence to pin any guilt on him or explain his anguish.
Then there’s his no-love lost relationship with Anne and Judith. This Shakespeare nonchantly goes about his business, deaf to their woes. At one point Anne scratches on his door like the mad woman in the attic he refuses to acknowledge. Judith is a rather lifeless character and that’s nothing to do with Catherine Cusack’s performance. The result is there’s little motivation to see any wrong in Shakespeare’s actions because of a lack of sympathy for his victims.
It’s was always going to be hard to see the Bard as anything less than a genius who gave a voice and a gift to society rather than one who did harm and Bond’s play doesn’t pull it off. Stewart is as watchable and charismatic as ever, the supporting cast fantastic and the scene setting slick, but we left feeling very nonplussed about this anti-hero Shakespeare.
Bingo: Scenes of Money and Death is at the Young Vic Theatre until 31 March. Tickets from £10.