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There's fraud abroad. In 1796 it took just one little prick to burst London’s spectacular literary balloon.
His name was William Henry Ireland who, at 19, became history’s foremost forger of bogus Shakespeare. Letters, poems, love notes, marginalia, slabs of signed manuscript, even entire new plays appeared and many believed them good - including Will’s Shakespeare-obsessed, social-climbing father Samuel.
In the Irelands' museum-like drawing room it’s April 1. Planning and wit’s-end panic is in the air. Samuel sold Sheridan the rights to Master Ireland’s hitherto unknown play, purportedly by WIlliam Shakespeare, and tomorrow night John Phillip Kemble opens in Vortigern And Rowena at Drury Lane Theatre.
A devastating assessment of Samuel’s Shakespearean “relics” appeared the day before. Things are coming unglued and social climbers are plunging off the greasy pole in highly theatrical fashion.
Folk lurk awkwardly under the mounting pressure of soliloquies and colourful exposition. Wigs are optional but flounces are de rigueur. Can a triumphant reception for Vortigern And Rowena save the situation?
Sadly no. The play is a catastrophe, the fraud exposed and, as internecine conflict mounts, failed art and frantic artifice abounds, the mob mills without and cultured society turns its fickle back, it is for invaluable “housekeeper” Mrs. Freeman to oil troubled waters and kookie gofer Christobel Linley to dangle her feet therein.
HANDY HINT: cardboard cut-outs often make an acceptable substitute for costly suggestions of reality.