I get the feeling that the debate about who wrote the bard’s plays has moved on somewhat since James Shapiro published Contested Will in 2010. This play by Mark Rylance (former director of The Globe Theatre, but forever, in my mind, Thomas Cromwell in the TV adaptation of Wolf Hall ) predates that, although it was not published in book form by Nick Hern Books until 2012. Rylance admits it needs updating given Shapiro’s research, but nevertheless, let’s ride with it.

I am Shakespeare’s full title – The Big Secret Live ‘I am Shakespeare’ Webcam Daytime Chatroom Room– provides an inkling of the unexpected ride that’s in store. The webcam and chatroom is located in Frank Charlton’s garage in Maidstone, Kent. Frank is a schoolteacher and Shakespearean researcher obsessed with the true identity of the bard. With the technical help of his neighbour, Barry Wild, who once had a top-twenty hit entitled “I am a Sputnik Love God” , he sets up a chatroom complete with telephone hotline (these are the days before free video-conferencing) for folk to dial in and discuss.

There are many candidates laying claim to being the real Shakespeare; four of them being a chap named William Shakspar, another named Francis Bacon, a certain Edward de Vere and the Lady Mary Sidney, allegedly part of a conglomerate of writers who penned the works of Shakespeare. When Frank opens up his chat hotline, who is he expecting to turn up? He certainly could not have anticipated being visited – in person – by all four of the above!

Not all at once, but one after the other, joining each other on stage. Which means that William Shakspar gets an uncontested run at making his own arguments. But things get more testy as the other characters join the argument. Actually very testy when Edward de Vere, a bit of a hoodlum, makes an appearance. So much so that the local police become involved, and that’s when Barry’s top twenty hit plays a crucial role!

The interplay between the historical and the modern is so funny – particularly when these erudite Elizabethans/Jacobeans (I’m never sure) become obsessed with the contents of a 21st century fridge. I’d love to see this play live. It would be a scream of pleasure for the audience, although maybe one of anxiety for the actors. During the performance the audience take on the role of hotline callers, and the actors/characters are instructed to adlib their own defence in response to whatever is thrown their way!

Where can I get me a ticket? .

I Am Shakespeare is published by Nick Hern Books, a performing arts publisher and licenser. Originally set up as an imprint of the indie Walker Books, it became part of Random House in 1990, before becoming fully independent in 1993. Following that the publisher won the Sunday Times Small Publisher of the Year award in 1994.

In addition to reading I Am Shakespeare for Reading Independent Publishers Month 2023, it I also read it for my EIBF 20 for 40 project. Edinburgh International Book Festival celebrates its 40th in 2023, and I brought I Am Shakespeare back from the 2015 festival following this event.