The Sonneteer opened its original premiere run on Monday 4th August 2014 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with the final performance on Saturday 23rd. London Previews took place at the Landor Theatre on 18th & 19th July 2014.
"A must for any lover of Shakespeare's language ... inventive and creative"
Kate Saffin in FringeReview
(8th August 2014)
"The writing moves seamlessly between dialogue and sonnet – most are included in full and given to one character but a few are delivered as dialogue between the two. Both actors are skilled in handling the language and creating a thoroughly believable sense of the sonnets as conversational. The core narrative is clear as both the 16th and 21st century pairs deal with the attraction for each other that they are feeling. It is also a textually dense piece and it is to the credit of the writer, actors and director that the two stories come across both clearly and as interlinked.
Overall, it is a must for any lover of Shakespeare’s language. It is an inventive and creative take on a body of Shakespeare’s work that has received less attention in creating drama."
"Seductive and passionate"
Donna Bisset in The Mumble
(14th August 2014)
"It is a brave soul that takes on Shakespeare; it is a braver soul that posits what (or who) may be the true inspiration of Shakespeare’s works. ‘The Sonneteer’ tries to do exactly that. Sebastian Michael’s new play explores the relationship between the bard and his “fair youth” Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton to whom he dedicated two narrative poems.
This seductive and passionate imagining is interwoven with a modern relationship between lecturer and student. Through language and use of lighting, each set of lovers are clearly identified. Michael plays both older lovers whilst Tom Medcalf plays both student and Wriothesley, and is the true star of the show. He is young but the sonnets caress and roll of his tongue masterfully infusing a command, not just of language, but of the complex and confusing idea of love and lust.
Historically, we may never know the truth behind the world’s greatest writer but this play makes a damned good effort in exploring one possible facet of his life. ‘The Sonneteer’ demands from its audience full attention and even if one is not completely sure what is going on, the sheer physicality of the actors and the rhythmic singsong of the sonnets will keep minds engaged. FOUR STARS."
"An intriguing, tumultuous narrative of passion, sexual frustration and infatuation"
Emma Hardy in Plays to See
(9th August 2014)
"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’s Collected 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."
"Refreshing and thought-provoking"
Tony Challis in ScotsGay Magazine
(13th August 2014)
"This is a subtle two-hander that moves between the present day and the time of Shakespeare. Sebastian Michael plays both Shakespeare at the time he was writing his sonnets and a modern day lecturer. Tom Medcalf is Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, and a student today, and the object of the older mans affections in both incarnations.
The pair are enthusiastic and athletic in both roles, and we hear some of the best known sonnets and hear how the relationship today remains fraught because, although the student is a young adult, the relative status of the pair means that we are told they are ripe for scandal.
This is a brave attempt to show connections between two ages of history, and to suggest a deep loving relationship between the two Elizabethan characters as well as across generations in the present day, and the petty jealousy inherent in such situations. This is a refreshing and thought-provoking production."
"A fresh context to hear and appreciate the sonnets ... dextrous, playful, poignant, sexy"
Susan Mansfield in The Scotsman
(8th August 2014)
“Michael and Tom Medcalf perform interweaving parallel stories of Shakespeare and Wriothesley, and a contemporary affair between an academic and a wealthy young student, lacing them together with the golden threads of the sonnets themselves. Taking on Shakespeare is not for the faint-hearted, but Michael is pleasingly understated, with both actors quickly warming to their roles.
Ros Philips’ direction encourages elements of physical theatre, and lighting changes help to signal the shifts between the two time periods.
We will never know whether or not Wriothesley encouraged Shakespeare, as the play suggests, to take his grief over the death of his 11-year-old son and write it into his greatest plays. But The Sonneteer does provide a fresh context to hear and appreciate the sonnets. They grow as the play does, sounding somewhat formulaic at first but quickly becoming dextrous, playful, poignant, sexy, the work of a master hitting his stride."
"Fresh, enjoyable writing and a new take on a body of work that stands the test of time."
Caitlin McDonald in Everything Theatre
(20th July 2014)
"The power of this show is in the words, both the sonnets themselves and the new material Michael has written, with compelling dialogue and a realistic sense of the charged relationship between the two (or four?) characters. Without overburdening the script with exposition, Michael conveys character development and richness. "
Director Ros Philips makes the most of the Landor’s quirky layout, staging the show with energy and inventiveness. That dynamism keeps the pace moving and prevents the show from feeling like two guys reciting rhyming monologues at each other, a trap that a play about sonnets could easily fall into. Designer Jay Ramirez kits the actors out in imaginative takes on contemporary suits. Michael’s in particular, a caricature of professorial garb with its yellow socks, pockets, and collar, reminds me of buffoonish Malvolio’s yellow cross-gartered stockings from Twelfth Night and I wonder if this is deliberate or if there is an inference I haven’t caught. Either way I like it.
In its best moments The Sonneteer revels in the joy of language and in the power of words to move us."
"Original and innovative"
Elizabeth Vile in The Public Reviews
(19th July 2014)
"The Sonneteer is an original and innovative piece that explores one of the lesser known parts of Shakespeare’s life. The way that speech blends into the sonnets is very effective and makes the sonnets much more accessible to an audience and Philips’ detailed direction gave us plenty to watch. This production will be at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer and if the life and loves of Shakespeare is of interest to you then this reviewer suggests you take a look, you might be surprised at what you see!"