You’re Never Too Old, They Say. But I Am

My depressing whinge about age.

For my 49th birthday treat, I went to see Shakespeare in Love at the Noël Coward theatre in London. Expensive but worth it: spry, funny, uplifting and moving but also, for all the surface froth, quite a deep meditation on the creative process and the enduring power of art.

What everyone secretly loves best about it, though, I suspect, is the way it so shamelessly flatters their intelligence. We’re all aware that Shakespeare wrote a sonnet that begins ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’; that Marlowe was stabbed to death in a pub brawl; that Malvolio wears yellow stockings and cross garters. This is basic, middlebrow general knowledge. But the way the show plays with these details and weaves them into the plot without bashing you on the head or over-explaining has the pleasing effect of making you feel like you’re in on a private joke which only an exclusive few get.

The performances in the new stage version are a delight, especially David Oakes’s languid Kit Marlowe and Lucy Briggs-Owen’s adorable Viola De Lesseps. But the thing that really makes this production sing is the live incidental music (as was also the case with two of the other excellent productions I’ve loved recently: War Horse and the RSC Richard II). Nothing quite beats a nice bit of crumhorn or viol or plainsong or rustic balladry to get you in the right period mood.

Don’t worry, though. This isn’t an audition for Lloyd Evans’s job. I’d absolutely bloody hate to be a theatre critic, not least because I remember from my time as a showbiz correspondent in the early 1990s that perhaps eight in every ten productions you have to see are dross. Rather, I wanted to muse a little on the career choices I’ve made and on the regrets that now haunt me as a result. Fellow nearly-fiftysomethings — and post-fiftysomethings — will I’m sure understand where I’m coming from. Time is running out and the options are closing by the day.

Read the rest of my depressing whinge at The Spectator.

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