Top critical review
To read or not to read? Lemme answer that question.
on 3 August 2013
The plot starts off reasonably enough: Nathan Field is a modern-day Apple Pie American schoolboy who comes over to England with his all-male drama group to put on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the new Globe Theatre. So far so good. Unfortunately, no sooner has Nat arrived in the city of red telephone boxes and black cabs than he picks up bubonic plague from nowhere and after a few odd moments, finds himself in the previous Globe Theatre 400 years ago. Yes, not the rebuild but Shakespeare's original wooden square-shaped sewer-pit theatre, complete with actors (and no actresses) from the period.
Nat seems to take this sudden change of time and place remarkably well and soon puts his all into rehearsals for the big number they're planning to put on for Madge, known in those days as Queen Elizabeth (the White One). By the way, communicating with humans from 400 years ago doesn't faze our Nat. Despite the fact that there is no chance that modern-day Americans and 16th-century Londoners would have a clue what the other was saying, throw in a few instances of `thou' and `tha' now and again and it seems all language barriers are no longer a problem.
Anyway, "why is this happening to me?" For a start, is it a dream? No, it's worse than that. Nat has changed places with another Nathan Field - this one from the 1590s - who is now busy sweating it out at Guy's Hospital (or St Thomas' or wherever) because something extremely odd has happened. Don't bank on the explanation making any sense at all.
Meanwhile, Nat Number 1 (the American who has gone back in time) meets the Bard himself and quicker than you can say `Romeo and Juliet', Wills and Master Nat are bezzies.
Young Nat, by the way, is the pint-sized equivalent of New Man. He's sensitive and wimpy, dissolving into floods of tears at the drop of a hat and parking his head on the nearest shoulder, namely Uncle Will's. This is because his Pa died a long time ago in an era far away and he has a phobia about discussing it with anyone unless they happen to be W Shakespeare Esq. You see, Old Shakey has this magic touch when dealing with 20th-century American boys.
In fact, our all-American hero is dexterity on two legs, cartwheeling his way over the boards and wowing his peers in Tudor times, as well as making a few enemies here and there in the shape of some jealous 13-year-old boys (I'm guessing: their ages are never mentioned but as Nat points out, the moment their voices break, they'll be on the scrap heap).
Nat has a unique way of dealing with his enemies. It just so happens that he is a dab hand when it comes to first aid and the moment his nemesis - the one they call Roper - starts all-a-choking, he tries out the Heimlich manoeuvre on him with astonishing success. Out pops the offending item and Master Field has saved the day. Forsooth. Now everyone is on his side.
Nat travelling back 400 years is the most convincing aspect of the book. Less easy to swallow are the attitudes of everyone involved plus some misplaced faith in the NHS. While Nat (whichever of them) has been thrashing about in hospital, the nurses (and there's no shortage of them) are attending to his every whim and taking a keen interest in him. This is beginning to make even `Casualty' look realistic.
Don't think for one moment that this is just some daft time-shifting story. We are actually treated to some patronising history/English lessons that we didn't ask for. London in the early 1600s was a city full of poverty and not a lot in the way of personal hygiene, boys played women's parts in plays, and life in general was hit and miss. We knew all that already and we don't need it rammed down our throats.
However, one could argue that Ms Cooper "brings it alive" for us in this bizarre and ramshackle mish-mash of fact and fiction. Yes, it seems there really was a Nathan Field alive in Shakespeare's time who became a noted actor. Look it up and you can read all about him. Was he a St Paul's pupil of Richard Mulcaster? Indeed. Did he switch places with an American boy from 400 years hence? Probably not. However, at least we're talking about it and discovered something we didn't know.