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Book Review – Sweet William by Michael Pennington

Sweet William by Michael Pennington
(Published by Nick Hern Books – 322 pp – at £12.99)

For 50 years Michael Pennington has been one of our busiest and most distinguished Shakespearean actors. His credits include 10 performances for the RSC and 9 for the English Shakespeare Company. He reckons that so far he has spent 20,000 hours of his life performing Shakespeare, let alone the time taken rehearsing, talking, thinking and writing about him. He is an Honorary Associate Artist of the RSC and since 2007 he has been touring his one man Shakespeare show – “Sweet William” – both nationally and internationally. It has been described as “a unique blend of showmanship and scholarship”. It has been released on DVD, and now he has expanded it to become what he rightly describes as “A User’s Guide to Shakespeare”.

Beginning with his introduction to Shakespeare at the age of 11 – an Old Vic production of “Macbeth” in 1955 with Paul Rogers and Ann Todd as the leads, and Eric Porter as Banquo and John Neville as Macduff (I’ve still got my copy of the programme!) – Pennington takes his readers through every play in the Folio. His characters range from Arthur and Mamillius to Shallow and Silence. He has produced a rich theatrical tapestry studded with academic insights and personal experiences.

It is at once a serious reference book and a fascinating professional memoire. Greg Doran has described it as “a brilliant insider’s guide to Shakespeare”. For Ian McKellen “it will intrigue entertain and challenge students actors and their audiences”. And to Peter Brook it is “irresistibly readable”. As the Court of Appeal wing man says so often – “I agree and have nothing to add!”