Rather than being a book about Shakespeare this is a book that tells the history of theatres in London during Shakespeare’s lifetime; starting with the opening of Theatre in Shoreditch by James Burbage. There is also a chapter on Sam Wanamaker’s ambition to open The Globe and another on the opening of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London in 2014.
It is an odd mix of storytelling – imagining the young Will Shakespeare visiting London for the first time on an errand in 1586 – and history based on known facts from civic records, diaries and letters.
Sometimes I would find this annoying but I actually quite enjoyed this book. I think it’s because the author is very clear about when she is making things up and when they are based on fact and her storytelling has a different voice from when she relates historical fact.
I really enjoyed learning more about the Burbage family and just how instrumental they were in the development of theatres as we know them today. I had heard the name before but not appreciated that theatre was a family thing not just an individual.
The author explains more about the problems experienced by companies of players during the Tudor period; things such as plague epidemics, political tensions, plays that offend important people at court and the rise of Puritanism.
The book is also good at introducing some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and putting his plays into context amongst theirs. Sometimes, given the reverence shown to Shakespeare in some quarters today, it is easy to forget that in his day he was another playwright amongst many others.
Ir was fascinating to learn more about modern Globe theatre and the struggles Sam Wanamaker had to get it built. I admire his tenacity and am saddened that he never got to see it finished.
Would I recommend this book? I’m not sure. I wouldn’t rush out to buy another book by this author on the strength of this one. On the other hand, if someone gave me one of her books to read it wouldn’t languish quite as long on my “books-to-read” pile as this one did. An enjoyable but not compelling book.