As we celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death Tony Diggle's new play imagines that the Bard is still around, sort of. He's in a writers limbo between heaven and hell.
There is an intimidating cockney Angel Gabriel (Christopher Knott) who keeps Shakespeare (Jonathan Coote) and fellow writers Ben Johnson (Alex Murphy), Christopher Marlowe (Edwin Wright) and George Bernard Shaw (Richard Ward) in line while Puck (Sue Appleby) tries to keep them out of line. Shakespeare, with Pucks help, wants to visit earth to see The Globe and check out his legacy and what he sees whilst there inspires him to write a new play much to the dismay of the other writers.
This is all well and good but in addition to the action flitting between 'heaven' and earth, Diggle also takes us back in time to Shakespeare as a young man (Dan Wheeler) on the cusp of success and then, later on, at the end of his life. Here we see Shakespeare conflicted between creative success and being at home where his family need him.
And here lies the problem. The individual elements are in themselves fine but as a collective it creates a play of such diverse tone that it is difficult to make out what exactly Diggle is trying to convey. When Shakespeare makes it to earth he quickly realises that certain things have not changed in 400 years but this feels almost perfunctory amid everything else that is going on.
For Shakespeare aficionados there is some clever mixing and melting together of famous lines and speeches together with plenty of literary references for those up on Jacobean drama and the works of Shaw but again it seems to sit oddly with the other elements. The net result is a piece that is difficult to engage with and as a result it felt long particularly. Three times I thought it was drawing to end but it wasn't.
There are some good individual performances, particularly from Jonathan Coote and I could have watched more of Angel Gabriel but overall the story meanders through too much different territory.
A Kingdom for a Stage was two hours and 15 minutes and runs at the Chelsea Theatre until May 7. I'm giving it 3 stars for the good bits.