Cork actor and lawyer Rose Loughlin’s new show shines a light on the truth behind William Shakespeare. PHOTO: Graeme Coughlan

To plea, or not to plea...

Liam Neeson and his “very particular set of skills” aren’t a patch on multi-talented Cork actor/lawyer Rose Loughlin who will soon take to the stage to present her evidence on the truth behind William Shakespeare.

Bringing her one-woman show ‘A Rose by Any Other Name’ to debut at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Rose hopes to plant a seed of intrigue and curiosity in the minds of her audience, and it’s all to do with a man named Edward de Vere.

Rose’s show charts her real-life quest to discover the truth behind history’s most celebrated playwright. From clues in Cambridge, to proof in Padua, and validations in Venice, the show offers incredible insights, tales of entertaining encounters, and moving monologues.

But first of all, how on earth does somebody balance parallel careers in acting and law in this hectic modern world of ours?

“It's something that I've constantly wrestled with in my career because both require a lot of time,” Rose explains.

“I started off like every lawyer, you go into a private practice, you do your training. I knew early on that the hyper-corporate career with the long hours wouldn't be for me, but I found an area of law that I was very good at.

“Then, about 15 years ago, I decided to just randomly take an acting class, just purely for the fun of it. I did that at the Gaiety School of Acting and it was just so fun. The class really bonded and then there was an opportunity to take further classes.”

It was through these classes that Rose developed a fascination with classical acting and, of course, William Shakespeare. But it wasn’t until an acting classmate of hers directed her towards a “mind-opening” documentary about Elizabethan courtier, poet and playwright Edward de Vere, that Rose’s curiosity surrounding the Shakespeare authorship question was piqued.

Her lawyer’s instincts kicked in immediately and Rose set off on a journey of truth and discovery. Along the way, she amassed a weight of evidence suggesting that Shakespeare’s plays and poems were in fact written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

“With law, you always have to go back to the source and you never take anything at face value. If you want to do something, you have to say, 'Well, what is the legal basis for allowing me to do that?'. It was the same with Shakespeare. It was like, 'Okay, they're saying it's this Stratford man - grand, let's have a look at the evidence!'. When you start digging in and unravelling, you see that it's actually a different story to the one we're being told.”

According to Rose’s extensive research, the 1500s and 1600s were a dangerous time for writers and it was quite common for them to write under a pseudonym, especially if their work touched on sensitive topics like the royal family or religious matters.

Rose says she had never initially planned to write a play but had encountered so many unexpected delights on her quest that she felt she had to bring it to the stage.

“When I started travelling to places associated with Edward de Vere, I had no intention whatsoever of writing a play. I'd say I had been to about 6 places before I realised that there were lots of little magic moments happening along the way and maybe this was something I could write about. I've never written a play in my life!”

While Rose hopes her audience will develop its own curiosity around the Shakespeare authorship question, her human story is what really shines through, underpinned by universal themes of personal transformation and the joy of discovery.

For those interested, Rose wants to challenge long-standing perceptions and offer new perspective. For those not especially interested in Shakespeare, the charm and conviction of the protagonist’s delivery may well awaken a sleeping curiosity.

“I would love the audience to leave being really curious, firstly about this man, Edward de Vere and the Shakespeare authorship question. Maybe they might be interested in looking into it themselves. I hope it will inspire people sitting in the audience to say, ‘If I go and follow my nose or follow my dream, you never know where it will bring me!’.”

The show, which Rose started writing in 2018, will be performed for the public for the very first time at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Not a bad spot to debut half a decade’s work!

Rose says she’s excited and, naturally, a little nervous considering she will be alone on stage for a whopping 1 hour and 50 minutes, with a well-deserved 15 minute interval in there somewhere.

“I was thinking I could shorten it but I couldn't take anything away from it,” she laughs.

“I definitely feel really excited about the story that I'm going to tell. It's my own personal journey interfacing with the story of this incredible man Edward de Vere. I'm lucky that I have an awful lot of training behind me that I can draw on. There will always be those moments when you're standing on stage and you think, 'Oh my God, I'm standing on stage here!'”

‘A Rose by Any Other Name’ will run from 15-28 August (except 21 August) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before landing back on Irish shores for a run at The Glórach Theatre in Limerick on 23 and 24 September.