Attributing Fair Em to William Shakespeare has been labelled an out-and-out mistake. The play bears the conventions of the bard's recognisable output: class identity, instantaneous love and mixed identity. The scene is set in 1590, where William the Conqueror inadvertently marries a Danish princess disguised as a Swedish princess. Meanwhile, titular character "fair" Em lives below her standing as a deaf-blind miller's daughter. Feigning disability is an attempt to rebuff any suitors, ever-faithful to her true love. She's really from noble upbringing, and she and her father are fleeing the political reprisals of William the Conqueror.  

Disputes of provenance aside, the implausible plot is Shakespearian in effort but fails to achieve any of the humour or dramatic engagement. The switching and relationship between the two storylines is clumsy. There is no skilful writing in the script to provide a stable base for comedy or drama. Even the most dedicated and enthusiastic performances cannot revive a script that fails to prescribe believable characters. To remedy this shortcoming, it appears that director Phill Wilmont pushed the performances into full-blown farce. Musical renditions signpost the movement of scenes in an attempt (one would assume) to bolster the frivolity of action. In pantomime fashion, the audience is invited not to sink their teeth into realism. Instead we should enjoy a slapstick series of events and ignore how jarring they are in nature.

The actors, in contrast, are a confused mixture of overacting to achieve the hammy asks and performances that appear dedicated and sincere. Respectable and committed performances are belied by feeble world that the actors are committed to. The puffy costumes and black-and-white backdrop also contributes to a feeling of parody. What's more, the Union Theatre is a seats-on-stage venue. To me, all of these just exacerbated the production's shortcomings.

It's impossible to separate Fair Em from Shakespeare due to the constant reminder in promotional materials that Fair Em is noteworthy only due to its mistaken authorship. This alone is not adequate reason to revive a play that is weakly conceived. The stage execution lacks engagement and clear direction. Despite the efforts of the cast, Fair Em is lacklustre production. 

Fair Em, at Union TheatreStefan Nicolaou reviews Fair Em at the Union Theatre.1