Plays about Theatre and The Internet usually combine the elegance of a government video blog and the insight of a Dan Brown novel with the uplifting entertainment value of a PFD leaving party. For which read Not Very Good.
Mark Rylance to the rescue. Disgorged from his Globe, the Elizabethan auteur persists in his chimerical, cerebral craftmanship as writer, director and lead in the ominously titled The BIG Secret Live 'I Am Shakespeare' Webcam Daytime Chat-Room Show, a dense dazzling deranged dump of a comedy that teeters on disaster but somehow, just, wins through.
The play centres around the Shakespeare authorship question, articulated through the ghosts of Will, Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere and Mary Sidney as they materialise out of the internet one temptestuous night in front of Frank Charlton (Rylance), an anally acadmeic schoolmaster and webcaster, and his bumbling neighbour Barry (Sean Foley).
I know, it sounds appalling, and by imitating a Shakespeare play in form and flavour - long, verbose, sometimes unfunny, hugely ambitious - it stirred initial confusion and resentment from an audience who had no intimation from the facetious title that good sweaty Listening and Thinking would be required. It was saved by the sheer quality of the writing - the great unweildy monologues are tooth-achingly ripe with revelatory historical research, philosophical and psychological positions and rapier-fast references - the blistering pace and pliability of the acting (particularly from Juliet Rylance and Alex Hassel), and the playful audience participation which bullied co-operation out of our default cynicism and sloth.
Even managing to say something pertinent about the great, ridiculous, democratic, nay one might say Shakespearean mind of the web, the production finally makes us question what we are trying to avoid in our blinkered bard-worship. For deep down we are all terrified at what Shakespeare suggests that we can and should be and do. We are reluctant to take responsiblity for the genius that rests with each of us, hunted, fugitive, feared.
I am Spartacus.