Review: I Am William, Stratford Festival

by Lynn on August 17, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Tom Patterson Theatre Canopy, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Written by Rébecca Déraspe

English Translation by Leanna Brodie

Music by Chloé Lacasse and Benoit Landry

Book, lyrics and score developed by Théâtre le Clou

Directed by Esther Jun

Musical director, Njo Kong Kie

Choreographer, Alyssa Martin

Co-designers, Michelle Bohn, Samantha McCue

Lighting by Arun Srinivasan

Sound by Maddie Bautista

Cast: Shakura Dickson

Landon Doak

Allan Louis

Shannon Taylor


Njo Kong Kie

Ben Bolt-Martin

Graham Hargrove

I Am William is a joyful, fierce, empowering play given a rapturous production by director Esther Jun and her wonderful cast.

The Story. Playwright Rébecca Déraspe presents a fascinating proposition. What if William Shakespeare didn’t write the plays attributed to him. What if he had a sister named Margaret who wrote them but let William take credit in order to get her words into the world?

Rébecca Déraspe creates a stifling world for women in Shakespeare’s day. They are not allowed to be educated or taught to read and write on pain of death. (a bit harsh, that). They are to tend to the house, mend, wash, tidy and not make trouble for their menfolk. As one of the characters says: “Women and girls are meant to watch the world go by, not to wonder and look at it and think.” The world revolved around William since he was the boy in the family. Never mind that William was not terribly bright and that he longed to be an actor. He was always cheerful and good humoured. Margaret was meant to help her mother, Mary, do chores.

But Margaret could read and write because her brother taught her. And she loved to write, which she did at night after a day of working in the house. One day she left her sheets of writing in her brother’s room so he could see what she created. He loved what she wrote and, in his enthusiasm, took the writing to his school master who thought William wrote the words. William didn’t tell him differently. One thing led to another and before you knew it, William was engaged to present ‘his’ writing on the London stage and act in it. Brother and sister kept up the ruse. Margaret kept writing.

The Production. Co-designers Michelle Bohn and Samantha McCue have created a wood structure on the simple stage that represents Margaret’s room and other locations, A simple table is used for many family meals and events. Four bales of hay are multi-purposed: they are used as seats, storage (each bale has a lid), stepping ‘stones.’  The costumes are of Shakespeare’s time—ruffs and breeches for the men, long, full dresses for the women. I loved that the three-person band were also in costume—breeches, big shirts and ruffs around the neck. A lovely touch since they too are on stage.

The men in the play, William (Landon Doak) and his father John and the Earl of Leicester (Allan Louis)  all have that confidence that men with no constraints have. The women—Margaret (Shakura Dickson), her mother Mary and Queen Elizabeth 1 (Shannon Taylor) are demure, quiet, watchful, careful and knowing. It’s a fascinating divide in behavior, but it’s clear the women are the driving force. Director Esther Jun creates a nifty bit theatrical business to prove the point. Mary Shakespeare, the hardworking matriarch of the family, makes a point in a discussion with a microphone and then drops it. with attitude, into a basket—a Shakespearean ‘mic-drop’ if ever there was one. In one simple moment Shannon Taylor as Mary conveys Mary’s smarts, her contained exasperation of what she has to put up with, and her efficiency in getting her point across. Beauty. Later when Shannon Taylor plays Elizabeth 1 she is imperious and knowing.  

Allan Louis as John Shakespeare is a leader in the community and has that puffed-up arrogance of a man who thinks he’s in control in his world and his family. Because of the way Allan Louis plays him, John’s confidence is impressive—full-chested, declarative voice, commanding. But John was about to fall on hard times and one had to feel for a man who is brought low. Through it all his family rallied.

As William. Landon Doak is pure joy. He is exuberant when William makes a discovery of a word, even though his father improves upon it. His energy and enthusiasm are like watching a playful, panting puppy. And while Rébecca Déraspe has made Margaret the writer, she has made William into a modern man—he is eager to help his mother clear the table and even do the washing up—a notion that horrifies her and probably charms every woman in the audience. Shakura Dickson is compelling as Margaret. The need for Margaret to write is clear in every second of this performance. When Margaret says that “She wrote not for fame, but to exist” it’s a line that is said so understatedly that it hits the heart and leaves you winded. There is such longing to be seen in that line and in this performance.  

The music and lyrics by Chloé Lacasse and Benoit Landry adds a contemporary note to the lively proceedings. The music is engaging and the lyrics are properly intricate for a play about words. And the cast handles it all with style.

Comment. Rébecca Déraspe has written a wonderful play in I Am William and it is beautifully translated by Leanna Brodie. The language dazzles. At times it seems we are witnessing linguistic gymnastics on the level of Simone Biles—words and syllables rhyme in triplicate. Women and girls are championed and credited with creativity and tenacity at a time when both were dangerous. Déraspe also illuminates how vibrant art is to communicate even to a person like William who can’t create. He is able to recognize when writing is good when he reads his sister’s work. By the same token, the wise and wily Queen Elizabeth knows who the real writer is.

Again, Esther Jun has created a joyful, exuberant production without loosing any of the more poignant moments. The production gleams with creativity, humour and a loud, beating heart.

Produced by the Stratford Festival.

Playing until: Sept. 12, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes, no intermission.  

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve Dalton September 3, 2021 at 12:45 am

Dear Ms Slotkin,
Just a short note to say I totally agree with your review of “I am William”. I thought it was a total delight!
best regards,


2 Lynn September 3, 2021 at 12:50 am

Lovely! Thanks for letting me know. And even the rock music depicted women through the ages of coming into their own. Loved that too. Best, Lynn Slotkin