Ellen Terry with Eileen Atkins, The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre, London. February 2016.
In the first year of my MA one module I studied was all about the history of Shakespeare in performance and for my final essay I chose to write about Ellen Terry. She was the one of the leading Shakespearean actresses of the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth and very influential both through her family and also her own talent. In addition to acting she also wrote essays about Shakespeare's women and really brought them to life, she was an early supporter of the woman's suffrage movement too and made public appearances to raise money for the cause.
In her own life time she performed these essays to audiences and after her death they were collected together and published. It is these essays that are brought back to life by Atkins in this 70 minute monologue and it is hard to believe that they are 100 years old for they sound as fresh and worthy of study now as they were then.
Atkins is playing Terry from the moment she walks on stage and the lectures are given so naturally and conversationally that I was held spellbound from the first word. The small biographical details that are also woven in to the lectures were a delight, as I'd studied Terry in some depth there were no new anecdotes but hearing 'her' give them was a delight and hearing the audience response to them was also a joy.
Atkins managed a virtuoso performance switching from Terry to numerous Shakespearean roles with just a twitch of the shoulders or a facial expression and some of here scenes were easier to follow than actual performances.
I'm so glad that this was revived in this Winter season at the Globe as I was very sorry to have missed it last time round, I do think that it is quite specialised - you do have to know the plays quite well to follow some of the trains of thought but Atkins has such a splendid voice that just sitting and listening to the words would also be a treat.
Having seen Simon Callow's one man Shakespeare a few years ago and thoroughly enjoying that I have to say that I think this was better. I'm not sure if it was because the subject, Shakespeare's women, chimed more with me or if it is because I now know the plays so much better but the scant 70 minutes left me wanting more and I hope that in this special anniversary year that this show has been recorded and that it will be broadcast so that many more people can see a wonderful performance.
Smallhythe House and barn theatre, Kent - Ellen Terry's home
Ellen Terry's costume for Lady Macbeth - it is made from beetle wings to get the iridescent shine