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 The Theatreguide.London Review

What You Will
Apollo Theatre   Autumn 2012

Roger Rees began at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s as a silent Second Huntsman, working his way up through Fifth Lord and Malcolm to Hamlet, though for many of us he will always be Nicholas Nickleby in the extraordinary 1981 RSC epic. 

(Hindsight tells us that was a golden age for the RSC – among his fellow spearcarriers-to-stars were Ben Kingsley, Bob Peck, Greg Hicks, Alan Howard, David Threlfall, Ian McDiarmid and Helen Mirren.) 

He has spent most of the past three decades in America, alternating Broadway with television and regional theatre. He is now pushing seventy, though only a bit of grey in the hair and some added cragginess in the face distinguish him from the young Nicholas of memory. 

Personal reminiscence is only one strand of this amiable meander through thoughts about Shakespeare. There are also anecdotes of Shakespearean actors of the past, student exam gaffes ('Shakespeare wrote in Islamic pentameter'), comic excerpts from Dickens and Thurber about actors and interpreters, and, of course, a handful of soliloquies and speeches from the plays. 

Generically, this is similar to solo shows by other actors through the years but whereas Simon Callow, for example, will put the emphasis on demonstrating his versatility and mastery of instant comic characterisations, Rees actually seems to be just an enthusiast happily sharing some of his favourite bits with us. 

Rees has great personal charm, and not even a surely unnecessary microphone can break the friendly intimacy he establishes with the audience. The recitations – the Henry V prologue, Richard II on the death of kings, Macbeth's dagger and others, and, inevitably, Hamlet on being or not – are almost throwaways, zipped-through enjoyments of the sounds that feel closer to audition pieces than full characterisations. 

You come away from some other solo shows thinking 'What a great actor'. There is no question whatever about Rees' talent, but because this isn't just an exercise in showing off, you are more likely to leave the Apollo thinking 'What a nice guy'.

Gerald Berkowitz


Review - What You Will - Apollo Theatre 2012 
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