Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Shakespeare 400: Archive Interview • MICHAEL PENNINGTON • Sweet William • 2007

pennington_michaelMichael Pennington is bringing his superb one-man show, Sweet William to the Little Angel Theatre, Islington, London this August. In it, Pennington explores his relationship with the writer with whom he has had a very personal relationship since the age of eleven. “It all started when I went and saw Paul Rogers and Ann Todd in Macbeth at the Old Vic. That was in 1955.” Pennington chuckles at having given away his age so easily. “Since then, Shakespeare has been a major part of my life.” Sweet William is Pennington’s personal homage to ‘William’, although the actor is at pains to point out this is “no routine anthology show.” Gone are the days when John Gielgud could make a TV series dedicated to the Ages of Man, taking the opportunity to play his greatest hits: “Gielgud was just displaying his own splendour – my show is something completely different.”

Of course, Pennington is no stranger to appearing in glorious isolation on stage. “I have a history of solo plays. I presented one about Chekhov – full of elaborate costumes and lighting. With Sweet William, I wanted to get back to something much simpler – just the actor and some light and a wonderful space.” Pennington has worked with the best. Sir Peter Hall and Michael Bogdanov are two directors he respects and admires. Now it is time to tell Shakespeare’s story on his own, though. “We know quite a lot about Shakespeare’s life, it’s just that we can never know enough!” Pennington adds that “life was so different in Elizabeth’s time – there is so much fascinating biographical information.”

This is not to suggest that Sweet William is straightforward historical biography or a simple monologue of various Shakespearean excerpts. Far from it. Shakespeare, so Pennington tells me, is the “bindweed – I often digress about my own theatrical experiences.” Fascinating as these digressions are sure to be, Pennington is adamant that he doesn’t want it to be a “luvvy show!” What we are introduced to are occasionally obscure and enlightening passages from plays like Henry VI, Pericles and A Winter’s Tale: “I have almost wilfully chosen speeches which are unfamiliar, but the root is in the narrative – the narrative is me and Shakespeare and the business of Shakespeare.”

Early on in the creative process, Pennington asked his agent how best to describe Sweet William. With surprising insight and poetic flair (sorry to all you erudite agents reading this), Pennington’s suggested, “It is like your love letter to your best friend.” Now that’s what I call an agent worth the percentage.

“It’s a play in two halves, about 45 minutes each way – and just me,” adds Pennington, talking about the logistics of performance. It is surprising to hear the ‘just’ word when describing Pennington’s presence at the Little Angel. He has already made his mark at the venue when the RSC brought their original production of Greg Doran’s Venus and Adonis. “Peter Glanville [the artistic director at the Little Angel] has been thinking of branching out from puppet work, and he invited me to return to this wonderful theatre with Sweet William. It is so exciting and intimate working in a space that only seats 100 people. It’s like doing the show as if it was in my own sitting room.” The play itself has been honed over several months, with acclaimed one-off performances at festivals and theatres around the country.

When asked about the creative process, Pennington confirms that he directed himself, “although I showed it to a half a dozen trusty friends – mostly playwrights and other actors – just to expose it and to get a grilling.” You can be sure, with Pennington’s pedigree there was little ‘grilling’ and much support and encouragement. “Well, it sums up all that I have been up to in my acting career so far.”

The most gratifying aspect of the show, apart from being invited back to the Little Angel? “Definitely the number of kids who see it and are enthralled. This is a production that speaks to all ages – it’s great for college students and graduates as well – but everyone will, I hope, get great pleasure from my personal ‘Love Letter’ to Shakespeare.” Sweet William is a love letter I’m sure the Bard would have been delighted to receive. Its sender, the inimitable Michael Pennington.

Kevin Quarmby © 2007

Originally published on R&V 31-07-07


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Improbability Archivist

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, Doctor Who,

WCH On This Day

Working Class History anniversaries every day


Yoga classes and aromatherapy products in Andalusia, Spain.

LOIS BRYAN Photography and Digital Art

History And Other Thoughts

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Secret Diary Of PorterGirl

The everyday adventures of the staff & students of Old College


Subject to change.

The Müscleheaded Blog

"Nothing Exceeds Like Superfluous Jejunity "

Women of History

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Jon Danzig's World

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

The pallet Junkie

Hand crafted furniture

Dreaming Reality

If Existence is a dream, let us dream perfection....


Exploring best practice and research in sexual violence. A loud voice in the fight against victim blaming. Written and Managed by Jessica Eaton, Doctoral Researcher in Forensic Psychology

Teagan's Books

Now available: "Murder at the Bijou - Three Ingredients I"

Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

The History Woman's Blog

Just another weblog

Art by Jess Miller

sculpture and artwork


by Jack Monroe, bestselling author of 'A Girl Called Jack'

surprise saffron

relishing in life's surprises, delighting in food, travel, art

Wish I Were Here

Journeys Through Place and Time

Doron Art

A journey into my world of Painting

Taylor Revert

An anything-and-everything blog from life's number one fan

Random Facts in History

History is complex, massive, and full of strange events and coincidences. Learn with me as I hunt those out and bring them into the light.

Life with an Illness

Sharing my chronic illness journey, while helping others. I spread awareness, love, and positivity along the way!♡

The poor side of life

Exposing the unfair treatment of jobseekers, the horrors of Universal Credit, unfair sanctions and heinous treatment of claimants at Ashton under Lyne Jobcentre.

Art by Vicky Paton

Canadian Abstract Artist

Politics and Insights

Public interest issues, policy, equality, human rights, social science and analysis


Supporting the rich amateur theatre scene on the Isle of Wight

Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography - Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.

Sarah Ditum

Writing, etc.

Jots from a Small Apt.

Largely @ Liberty

Rethinking Life

Art and the philosophy of life

Croatia, the War, and the Future

Ina Vukic - Croatia: people, politics, history, economy, transition from communism to democracy

lynz real cooking

lynz real life

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Tropical Affair

Observations of the illusion through the eyes of wonder...

The home of writer Barney Hoskyns' books, poems, photos and more.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

Left Handed Lottie

Drawing and painting on an ipad

Atelier 88

More than just rooms

%d bloggers like this: