Bill

Director: Richard Bracewell (2015)

This celebratory and silly send-up of Shakespeare is a witty and affectionate tribute to the great Bard’s work.

It’s a thoroughly British entertainment,  created by the same people as the CBBC Horrible Histories TV series, which was based on the brilliant books by Terry Deary.

Performed with energy and respect, it’s full of knockabout humour and knowing jokes.

They even manage to slip in some Shakespearean verse from time to time.

Set in the wretched squalor of 1593, it focuses on the lost years of William ‘Bill’ Shakespeare prior to him becoming the world’s greatest playwright.

Played with an optimistic and gentle naivety by Mathew Baynton, Bill’s a failed musician who leaves behind his family and goes to London to become a writer.

He arrives in a filthy, villainous, murderous and plague-ridden Croydon.

As a former resident of the much maligned outer London borough, I promise you it’s no longer not quite as bad as all that.

Once there Bill takes writing tips from hard-up dramatist Christopher Marlowe, a marvellously morose and mendacious Jim Howick.

The pair unwittingly become involved in a plot to kill Queen Elizabeth.

Armed with bare chested vanity and a false moustache, Ben Willbond brings brio to the dastardly King Philip II of Spain.

Real-life husband and wife Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory play Sir Richard Hawkins and the Queen.

The former riffs on his role as captured soldier in TV’s Homeland, the latter is all yellow teeth and peeling face paint.

What follows is a series of comic misunderstandings, astonishing coincidences, unconvincing disguises, quarrelling lovers, ghosts, murders, betrayal and passionate intrigues.Basically everything you’d expect from a Shakespeare comedy.

Actors appear in several different roles, men can’t help but dress as women and there is a play to be performed before the Queen.

All’s well that end’s well and I imagine Shakespeare would love this caper, possibly nearly as much as I did.

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