Nobody has ever really thought that 'Fair Em' was by William Shakespeare: its past attribution is more an error of filing than scholarship. However, Phil Willmott, master of the Bard-related curio, has dragged it out of obscurity regardless. It's an anonymous Elizabethan comedy that's almost obstinately without merit – the worst bits of Robert Greene's 'Friar Bacon' padded out with utter crap.
Willmott is well aware of this, and so has taken a free hand with the adaptation and played the piece as broad as a barn door. The wispy plot of love requited, unrequited, and then requited again has been bizarrely bolstered with speeches from other contemporary comedies and the cast are mugging away gleefully. Nick Morrell's musical score turns up all too frequently to paper over the cracks, but its collision of faux-folk and barbershop is unconvincing.
Both Caroline Haines as the titular Em and Robert Donald as dusty Alan Bennett-a-like Trotter bring a glint of charm to the comic sub-plot, but there's only a meagre sprinkling of actual comedy. In offering us a play that's been absent for 500 years, Willmott promises something rare, but he's had to desperately overcook it to make it palatable.
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