The Seven Sides of Shakespeare
21 Feb 2022
Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Ophelo, Romeo and Juliet; William Shakespeare is perhaps the most influential figure in theatre’s history. The great bard shaped the world we live in today, without him theatre, and indeed cinema, would be very different.
Over the years many actors and actresses have adorned Shakespeare’s famous characters on both stage and screen - from Laurence Olivier to Judi Dench to Denzel Washington. One man has played seven of Shakespeare’s most iconic characters - his name is Shamrock McShane. In ‘The Seven Sides of Shakespeare’, an adaptation from his one man show at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre in Gainesville which he performed in early 2020.
Now, director Tom Miller has turned the show into a feature length film, a move which works in certain aspects but falls short in others. With each character McShane delivers an enigmatic monologue, recounting some of his character’s most memorable scenes. These soliloquies gives McShane an opportunity to demonstrate his obvious talent, as he grabs the screen, providing an engaging and memorable display with each vastly different character. Be it Romeo’s dear friend Mercutio or the violently mad Macbeth, McShane immerses himself in the character, capturing the spirit of each and showing his obvious passion for Shakespeare’s work.
These scenes also give Tom Miller, who’s previous directors credit is the comedy short ‘Nothing’, the chance to show his versatility and creativeness behind the camera. The ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ segment, in which McShane plays Oberon, are presented in an almost dream-like state, not so different from the quite frankly bizarre play itself. In the ‘Twelfth Night’ segment, where McShane portrays the crazy Malvolio, Miller gives us a wide range of shots - with some close-ups and spinning shots enhancing the cinematic experience, and ensuring that it never becomes too “stagey”. Although these highlights must be tempered with an misdirected ‘Julius Caesar’ segment where imposing McShane’s face onto that of Caesar’s dampens the otherwise intriguing story and creates a degree of separation momentarily between the viewer and the film.
The character soliloquies and mixed together with stories from McShane’s own personal experience with the characters, and they provide the story with heart. Without these sequences, which are narrated intimately by McShane, then the film would just be a soulless cut of a man playing seven different Shakespearian characters. Often these interludes are personal, detailing the youthful ambition, acceptance of failure and his own marital issues, and they help to show McShane as a man in his own right, not just as an actor playing pretend.
That’s not to say that the two don’t mirror each other at all. Macbeth, in particular, bears some resemblance to McShane, as he himself notes, with both possessing the ambition and desire to be the best in their respective fields. Of course, McShane didn’t go to quite the same lengths as the Scottish King to reach his goals, but he certainly did cause a great amount of discord in the theatre where the play was to be held.
The issue with the film comes with the voiceover narration of some of McShane’s personal life and backstory. Whilst there is no issue with McShane’s voice - it is booming and quite charming - the images which accompany it are a huge let-down. They’re often still images of McShane walking (wearing a mask to show its been made in the pandemic), which take away from the intimate atmosphere the rest of the film creates so well. It’s almost like having to watch a Shakespeare play with intervals every 15 minutes, a sin which would dispel the joys of Shakespearean theatre.
That being said, there’s a thrill to be had in watching a man who is clearly infatuated with Shakespeare and his works portray characters who’ve become a part of his life. Mercutio, Oberon, Malvolio, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Jacques, Prospero - they’ve all played a part in Shamrock McShane’s life and are characters which anybody who knows English Literature will be familiar with, yet, by the end of ‘The Seven Sides of Shakespeare’, the character you’ll like the most is McShane himself.