Will Power



Every week, at various locations in New York City, groups of old people get together to read Shakespeare with Bob Smith, author of the acclaimed memoir Hamlet's Dresser. These are not classes; they are more like sessions of 'Shakespeare therapy'.

The wealthier congregate at the 92nd Street Y, the poorer at a drop-in centre for the elderly on the Lower East Side. The youngest are in their sixties, the oldest is 102 : and for all of them what they call 'the Shakespeare' is the high point of the week.

"It's the only decent thing about being old"

"It's a drug, a fix, we got to have it"

"The only night I don't play poker is Tuesday so I can be alert and smart for the Shakespeare."

The man they read Shakespeare with is 61-year old Bob Smith, who describes himself as having 'leant' on Shakespeare all his life. He learnt most of the plays by heart during a lonely unhappy childhood. Shakespeare's words, Smith believes, have a unique ability to help the elderly confront what it is to be old.

Recorded in New York in the autumn, this is a programme about language and old age ; about Bob Smith himself, his 'classes', and the elderly people who attend them.