Part-time journalist Jacky Hilary caught Roger Rees's one man show What You Will on the 21st September. Here is her take on the show:
Roger Rees has been away too long. Unluckily for us, he now lives in the USA and has mainly worked there since the 1980s. The unyoung may remember his award-winning performances as Nicholas Nickleby in the famous RSC Dickens’ production. Those less long in the tooth may have seen him more recently in ‘The West Wing’ on TV. For me, he was the definitive Hamlet in the RSC’s 1984 production which also boasted a young Kenneth Branagh as Laertes. In 2010, he graced the London stage for the first time in over 20 years, playing alongside Sir Ian McKellen in ‘Waiting for Godot’.
This one-man show entitled ‘What you Will’ is a fun evening – part autobiography, part Shakespeare. We are reminded what we have missed as Rees romps through excerpts from Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V and King Lear, interspersed with student essay gaffes and theatre stories. Such is his versatility that, though now in his 60s, he can still convince as both Romeo and the Nurse. His command of accents is astonishing too, ranging from Irish (George Bernard Shaw) to American, posh and cockney. Although often cast as a toff, he reminds us that he is definitely not one. In his youth, he had to leave the Slade and his artistic aspirations behind, upon the death of his father, in order to support his family. He fell into acting when offered a small part at the Wimbledon Theatre while painting the scenery there. Later, he auditioned successfully for the RSC at this very theatre, in 1965, and slowly worked his way up the acting ranks.
This is not a show for purists. It is intentionally frothy, like a good cappuccino. It does though serve to remind us what a formidable talent Rees is. His physicality and gift for verse make him a natural for Shakespeare and much else. My only gripe is that he rushed some of the jokes, but this was only the second performance of this short run. I hope he gets some decent offers this side of the pond very soon. An actor of such charm and formidable talent deserves a meaty London stage role. Until that happens, I urge you to get to the Apollo before 6 October.
What You Will is playing a limited run until 6th October at the Apollo Theatre. Book your tickets here