Insight and enjoyment as Russell Brand teams up with the Bard

Russell Brand
Russell Brand

Sarah Becker reviews Russell Brand: My Life by William Shakespeare at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton

What do comedian Russell Brand and playwright Shakespeare have in common?

Both like to play with words – Brand would be the first to admit the playwright on a far grander metaphorical stage than him.

It was the prospect of this “collaborative piece with the greatest writer in the history of the English language" that drew me into buying a ticket for the comedian’s one-man performance.

Other than the title, I didn’t know what was to unfold in the intimate setting of the Royal theatre.

A slightly more rotund, more chilled out Russell Brand appeared than the last time I saw him on stage at the Derngate theatre in July 2008, when he made a hoax phone call to the police whipping up a storm of media frenzy.

This more laid-back Russell Brand was here to impart life lessons, philosophical musings mainly about his life but this time “illuminated through the lens of great genius”.

According to Brand, within the pages of Shakespeare’s plays there are life lessons to be learnt relevant to us all, decoded in language that can spellbind us and affect the way we feel.

Russell took us back to his youth growing up in Grays, Essex. Surprisingly, as a child, this handsome ex-lothario felt like an outcast.

“All I had was a certain kind of anger. I felt like an outcast. The other lads were cooler than me, with better bodies that me, better at football. You just feel not good enough. That feeling of being an outsider, being outcast.”

He was not alone. To capture this feeling, Brand quoted lines from Richard III’s famous speech: ““Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer through this sun of York.”

“Richard III isn’t being bowed or beaten by physical or literal deformity. As a kid I felt ugly.” said Russell.

Did this alchemy work – autobiographical shards of Brand’s life intersliced with verses of a great playwright?

Yes I think it did.

My favourite parts of the set were when Brand opened up about his insecurities and struggles with life. He came across as quite endearing - and proved to be a great verse speaker.

In another episode he spoke about the anger he felt as a young man when his stepfather moved into his family home. “The island of my home was taken from me. My home was invaded. I had lost control of the remote control.”

He explained that the character Caliban from The Tempest, in his rage to Prospero, perfectly captured the anger that he had felt towards his stepdad.

The interactive parts of the show were great to watch. Brand invited two willing members of the audience to come up on stage and recite verses with him.

Russell Brand’s show was peppered constantly with his sharp comic wit and linguistic ability.

“I had this personality and I was in Grays. If you are not famous and you are like this, that’s just basically mental illness.”

I find it slightly ironic when Russell explained how at school he found Shakespeare difficult to understand. At times, when Russell expounds at length off the cuff, his choice of literary vocabulary makes him hard to follow too!

There was plenty to enjoy about the show. Die-hard Brand fans won’t be disappointed and I left the theatre after an hour and a half wanting more.

* Visit www.russellbrand.com for details of future tour dates.