Ellen Terry was huge in her time and played nearly all of the great Shakespearean female roles (sadly not including Rosalind form 'As you like it') Terry's Four Lectures on Shakespeares were published in 1932 posthumously.
Now we have one of this generations great dames of the stage, Eileen Atkins, who takes us through this essay performance as Ellen Terry. The genius of this is that we get to hear the wit and intelligence of Terry and her profound & deep understanding of these roles through the wonderful Atkins and when it comes to the parts where Terry does snippets of soliloquies and scenes we get Atkins own superb rendering of certain roles. Juliet, Cordelia (even a remarkable bit of Lear) and a haunting ophelia.
These moments afe thrilling. But the fascinating (and comic) parts are Terry's own words. Her sharp astuteness and understanding of Shakespeare's femaile roles is vast and sublime, she breaks them down into her own 'types' and 'sorts' of women, from the early plays through to the later ones. The "push overs" and the "charming" women like Helena (Alls well that ends well) Viola (Twelkfth Night) & she contrasts them with might sharp wit of Beatrice, Rosalind and Mistress Ford.
Terry argues that the liberal attitude towards women wasn't something created during the 19th Century but was there in Shakepaeare's day and in his work and that women have a lot to thank him for. She also expounds on other liberal thinkers of the Rennaisacne like Erasmus who argued for equal education of women despite the fact that he believed men and women served differnet roles in society.
(Plato also aspoused this but he had other strict ideas about a woman's function in society) but here Terry makes her point well.
Atkins performance is superb and definitely warranted a return to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse following it's original opening last year. It ends next week alas, but well worth it if you can get a seat or even a standing ticket for £10. It's only a meer 75minutes & you will be informed, enlightened, tickled and deeply moved...."goodnight, goodnight"