Shakespeare’s sonnets have often been severely neglected in comparison to his plays, despite the fact that it is possible to view them as dramatic monologues or soliloquies, as vivid in their portrayal of emotion as the dramatic counterparts Shakespeare created. The sonnet sequence itself is a fascinating narrative, although it has not yet been proved conclusively that Shakespeare himself ordered them, or even intended them to be read in sequence. The Sonneteer draws its inspiration from the first 126 sonnets in the ‘sequence’, using them to map simultaneously conversations between a modern-day Renaissance professor and his pupil, and Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton (one of the individuals that has been nominated in scholarly discourse as the possible inspiration for the sequence).
Tom Medcalf, as the pupil and the Earl of Southampton gave a confident performance, and his youthful energy was a pleasing counterpart to Sebastian Michael’s hesitant and grave Lecturer/ Shakespeare. More differentiation was required between the character doubling that took place; despite a definite change in speech rhythms between the two, the actors did not go far enough in creating wholly new personas between the centuries. However, this slight issues was counteracted somewhat by the lighting design by Jessica HHY, which was successfully used to alternate between the weaving narratives. The tenderness between the actors was wholly believable and compelling, although the emotional journey could have been exaggerated further, to mirror the extremes love conjures, as indicated by the sonnets.
The theatre space was rather luxurious for the action contained within it; a smaller, more intimate venue would more successfully nurture the intimate and persistent nature of Shakespeare’s poetry. However, Michael, as the writer of the The Sonneteer, is to be commended for creating a piece of drama which attempts to reinstate the sonnets as more than an appendix to Shakespeare’sCollected Works, as an intriguing, tumultuous narrative of passion, sexual frustration and infatuation. Ultimately, the poetry is at the core of this piece of drama, and as a result, it is an enjoyable piece of theatre.