Miss Shakespeare follows in her father’s footsteps

Photo courtesy of Bold Rezolution Studios.
Photo courtesy of Bold Rezolution Studios.
Photo courtesy of Bold Rezolution Studios.

What if Judith Shakespeare wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a successful playwright herself? Miss Shakespeare is a new musical by the creators of Chelsea Hotel which explores this possibility and all the complications that it entails.

As a woman living in the 1600s, Judith (Amanda Lisman) has to hide her desire to write plays because women are banned from the stage. They are not supposed to be writers or actors, but Judith can’t help but express her creativity. She assembles a group of her friends, including her sister Susanna, and they secretly rehearse in the basement of The Cage Tavern. The tavern owner, Joe, turns a blind eye to what they’re doing because he wants Judith to marry him.

This musical is full of cheeky, seductive, empowering songs that celebrate female creativity and perseverance. With sharp wit, Shakespeare’s ghost, and songs like “Keep Your Pizzle in Your Pants” and “It Was the Ass,” this was a hugely entertaining romp that had me really invested in the characters.

While Judith is determined to write her play and see it performed by her troupe of female actors, Susanna (Caroline Cave) isn’t as willing to take the risk. She has her daughter to consider and is hesitant to do anything that may endanger her ability to be there for her. The other women are not immediately convinced of the idea either. One wonders why women would want to start acting now, and another admits that she can’t read.

Despite their apprehension, the group meets once a week and Judith finishes her play. Amidst the brilliant, cabaret-inspired tunes, the show is narrated by Quiney (Susinn McFarlen), who also plays the ghost of Shakespeare (a “ghost of the living”) as he has amusing conversations with Judith and laughs at her ambition to be a playwright.

This production is wonderfully cast, with sisterly chemistry bursting forth from the stage and framed by a collection of humorous, emotional, and profound songs that tell the story of 16th century women in a way that could only be told in the theatre.

Judith asserts, “I want to create something no one would ever believe was created by a woman,” and her determination leads the group to a live performance where they disguise themselves as men. Her father had his turn, but now Miss Shakespeare wants to show that women also have a voice, and it’s worth hearing.

Miss Shakespeare was presented by The Escape Artists and MusicalTheatreWorks at Performance Works from May 5 to 18 and will be at the Kay Meek Centre from May 21 to May 29. For more information, visit musicaltheatreworks.ca.  

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