Review: What You Will

“The play’s the thing.” Roger Rees runs us through a veritable top twenty of Shakespeare’s best lines, in an eclectic mix of performance, ruminations, commentary and personal anecdotes. What You Will promises to be a hysterical and historical gallop through all things Shakespeare. Does it deliver? “That is the question.”

The one man show possesses a simple elegance and rests on the easy confidence of its performer. Roger Rees enrolled in the Royal Shakespeare Company as a young man – nearly forty years ago – and spent four years playing the silent-non-speaking-mime parts. He graduated to speaking roles from then and has since gone on to play every lead character thinkable in the Shakespeare canon.

Rees is certainly well placed to discuss the topic; his ease comes from experience, knowledge and a formidable amount of research. I was concerned going in that my knowledge would not be encyclopaedic enough to understand all of the proceedings – that the soliloquies must be etched on your soul, with the names of a dozen kings known in descending order of how many lines they each speak. But Rees is very kind. He trusts his audience to appreciate Shakespeare, but not to know it as well as a man whose career has been defined by it.

I must warn you that you are in danger of learning something whilst watching this. If ‘learning’ and ‘Shakespeare’ appearing in such close proximity is bringing back haunting images of high school you’d rather forget, then this is not the show for you. If you possess a certain level of geekiness – outwardly, or just privately – then you will get more from the show. I now know that the Bard wrote three lines that are impossible to act. Can you ferret them out before you see the show?

The Apollo Theatre is nestled between Thriller on one side and Chariots of Fire on the other. What You Will is very quiet in comparison and unassuming. It flirts with innuendo without being gaudy. In that way it is not a very West End show, and as such you do not want to pay West End prices for it. It is in effect a (very well delivered) lecture.

The piece thunders along with a cracking pace. Rees does you the courtesy of letting you leave before even the most sensitive bum could go numb, a trait not often shared with his subject matter. If you must know, Macbeth is his shortest play – and that could well be a selling point for some.

What You Will has certainly given me a thirst for Shakespeare. His work is so abundant and of such varying quality in London that it can fade into the background. Rees proves it is still full of surprises and new discovery. With so much competition, will anyone notice? Rees performs a witty, heartfelt and intimate production. Can you pick it out against the din next door? If you like Shakespeare you should hear him out.

What You Will is playing at Apollo Theatre until 6 October. For more information and tickets please see the Apollo Theatre website.

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