Review: My Own Private Shakespeare (Modernclassic Theatre Company)

Justin Hay on a darkened stage next to a throne

Modernclassic Theatre Company’s production of Justin Hay’s My Own Private Shakespeare is playing at the Assembly Theatre. The small space, with seats removed to allow social distancing, adds a layer of intimacy to the evening.

My Own Private Shakespeare is a one-person play performed and written by Hay, who is a Shakespearean actor. Although it’s not stated anywhere, the play feels autobiographical. It’s about a Shakespearean actor whose life is imploding. He sees parallels between the things happening in his life and some of Shakespeare’s texts and weaves them into his story. It’s wonderfully effective. 

Hay goes from being the actor telling his story in a casual conversational tone to portraying a character (or two) from a Shakespeare play without a blink. The transition is seamless and his characters are marvellous. I’d love to see him in a full play, he’s a terrific actor. As I remember the scene he did between Lear and Cordelia I would almost swear there were two performers on the stage.

It’s amazing to me how appropriate all the texts are, how they match the situations. Hay uses scenes from Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, and Richard III. He even performs part of Hamlet’s soliloquy in French.

Director Mona Zaidi has done excellent work staging the piece. The set is minimal. A carved throne-like chair where the actor sits when he tells us about his life. When he’s performing as a Shakespeare character she has him moving on the small stage. It’s very effective.

Bridget Jankowski’s sound design is great. Thunder, rain, and wind all add to the atmosphere.

My Own Private Shakespeare is not an easy story. It talks about mental health, suicidal thoughts, and trauma. The actor had a very tough couple of years. That said, it’s a powerful piece. The acting is magnificent. It’s well worth seeing. I highly recommend it.


Photo of Justin Hay by Mona Zaidi