THE interior of Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre has been redesigned to accommodate the stunning production of Nick Dear’s new play Dedication, an exploration into the relationship between Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton.
Reams of paper have been used in discussions of the relationship between the writer and actor from Stratford and the pretty lordling whose life was devoted to pleasure and to fighting. So when Nuffield director Sam Hodges approached Dear to commission a play to mark the Shakespeare anniversary in 2016, the writer decided to incorporate all the popular theories.
Was their relationship physical? Did it involve European travel? Was it an exercise in the spoilt young nobleman’s desire for artistic prestige? Your guess is as good as mine … and Dear’s.
Set in a visually exciting and mystifying whirl of mirrors, frames and rising and falling platforms, with chanting hooded figures adding to the mystery, this is a play to confound expectations and exercise the intellect. It’s also muscular, sexy and fascinating.
What’s certain is that William Shakespeare was questioned about his relationship with Henry Wriothesley (say Rizley) and denied that there was any. And that he did dedicate works to the young nobleman. And that he did leave the London stage and return to his native town of Stratford upon Avon.
Nick Dear’s play uses modern technology to prod the audience’s understanding of the complex and interwoven versions of the accounts, which could have been differently cut and pasted.
Queen Elizabeth, known for cherishing courtly favourites and exacting precise penalties for supposed slights and misdemeanors, acted swiftly against plotters and traitors – but our Southampton escaped the worst of her wrath.
Shakespeare wanted his name intact and his legacy preserved.
Tom McKay brings a rough and lusty Shakespeare to the stage, a master of disguise and duplicity, and Tom Rhys Harries is simply mesmerising as the beautiful, adorable, nervy and arrogant Southampton.
It’s a terrific new play for the 21st century and the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and in spite of the challenges of staging, deserves a long and successful life as audiences continue the discussion of what the country’s greatest playwright and the Earl of Southampton really did mean to one another.
It is on at the Nuffield until 8th October, and very well worth the journey for an intense two hour journey into the minds of the protagonists.