Simon Callow in Being Shakespeare, Trafalgar Studios, London.

Living in a big city isn’t all fun and games. The number of young people killed and injured using knives and guns in London over recent years being just one, particularly disturbing example. But there is one huge advantage of living within travelling distance of many big cities, and certainly one like London: the positive cornucopia of theatres, museums and galleries within tantalising reach. Some of these have wonderful online collections, thereby bringing their pleasures to audiences far and wide (¬† Others tour either nationally or occasionally internationally, although their favours are still only conferred on the fortunate few. And it is with this latter truth in mind that I apologise upfront to those of who who won’t make it to see Simon Callow being Shakespeare, but something this good is simply impossible to keep to yourself.

Where to begin? With the man himself I suppose. And I don’t mean Shakespeare. This isn’t so much a play or even a one man show as a conversation, conducted in the lustrous tones and with the warmth of humanity so bountifully bestowed on Simon Callow. Quite apart from what he says-which is fascinating- just listening to him talk is a sensual pleasure, one in which passion, gentleness, and sincerity combine in equal part. Here is a man you can trust, a man whose utterances bring with them conviction, a man to soothe a fevered brow. Or as I couldn’t help thinking, someone who would make a truly wonderful doctor.

And then of course he is talking about Shakespeare, and about the way his ideas, experiences, and growing insights into the lived life can be traced through his plays and sonnets, marking out the seven ages of man that his words gave rhetorical form to. Words that echo around the world, in settings as diverse as the peoples of this world, in a universal language that transcends time, and culture, and history, to remind us that we are all born to love, and lose, and suffer, and will all, no matter how different our lives, know the same end in death.

Like our older patients, or the unlucky young ones, Shakespeare knew a thing or two about loss and bereavement, having lived through several plagues and having lost many family members, including a beloved son. So he had good reason to be cynical when he saw people around him working to further themselves at the expense of others. Perhaps that’s one of the few positive things that serious ill health can offer to those affected: the ability to see through the superficial and the insincere, and an appreciation of the small, unpretentious things in life, far removed ffrom the sound and fury, that in the end signify nothing.

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