Thursday, 19 April 2018

Novelist takes the cake

ACCORDING to Benet Brandreth, the Kenton Theatre thought his talk on “Shakespeare and his Women” would

ACCORDING to Benet Brandreth, the Kenton Theatre thought his talk on “Shakespeare and his Women” would be “like a fruit cake” — rich and dense with facts but, let&rsquos face it, a little dry.

However, he declined their suggestion of an interval, expressing his hope that the audience might find it more like “coffee and walnut” — sharp, nutty, and moist. (Yes, even he could admit that the simile falls apart here.)

I must admit, I disagree with them both. I found it to be most similar to Battenberg — surprising and colourful with its carefully crafted layers.

Cake metaphors aside, Brandreth was a delight. He has an impressive stage presence, so confident and captivating, so expressive with his energetic hand gestures.

Simply listening to him talk was entertainment enough, as he has the sort of voice that makes it seem as if Shakespeare was written for him to recite.



Having heard him read Sonnet 2 (“When forty winters shall beseige thy brow...”) I refuse to ever hear it again unless it&rsquos in his melodic tones.

It&rsquos clear how Brandreth became the rhetoric coach for the RSC, as he puts so much emphasis into his speech. No word is forgotten — each one has its moment. This talent really conveys, as he puts it, the “astonishing power of Shakespeare&rsquos language”. Brandreth paints a picture with his voice — anyone who doesn&rsquot understand Shakespeare just needs to hear him speak it.

Brandreth was also incredibly witty, injecting humour into his educational evening. By the end, he&rsquod successfully managed to establish a few in-jokes with his audience.

Repeatedly, he stated how he was “amongst the intellectual elite” in Henley, much to our smug satisfaction.

Another running gag was his constant reference to his book The Spy of Venice, which was the basis of the talk in the first place.

Brandreth was almost mocking himself, sarcastically touting his work like the shameless promotion of Aston Martin in James Bond.

The book has more value, he promised us, than just its gold leaf cover — it will make a fabulously decorative doorstop too!

Beyond his joking, Brandreth didn&rsquot intend to shame people into buying his book, so he explained his inspiration behind it — the mysterious “lost years” of Shakespeare&rsquos life. This way, at least we might have more motivation to buy it than purely embarrassment.

It worked. I bought it.

I could write so much about the ridiculous intelligence of Brandreth&rsquos speech. When I went to get my book signed at the end, he commented on my furious note scribbling (of which there were six messy-and-illegible pages&rsquo worth).

I got so lost in taking notes about his explanation of Shakespeare&rsquos life and where his unique talents came from that I became a student again, as if I were to be quizzed on all these fascinating facts after the show. His promise of a post-talk test may have been in jest, but I bet I could&rsquove aced it.

Mr Brandreth, if you are reading: despite my promise I haven&rsquot yet had a chance to read The Spy of Venice before writing this. But it&rsquos sitting by my bedside, and I cannot wait to open it, as if it&rsquos anything like your presentation, it&rsquos going to be a treat. Like a chocolate cake.

Review: Amy Nicholas



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