Review by Anthony Geering

Last year’s successful ‘Tempest’ proved a thoroughly enjoyable experience, capturing an authentic Elizabethan staging, rich use of costume and a cast of players who convinced and entertained.

How to follow that?


The imaginatively designed and constructed staging needs at least an annual airing. The assembled cast deserves new challenge and opportunity for an array of talent well beyond the local.


In the event Alan Fynn gave us three cameos in celebration of Shakespeare’s four hundred anniversary.


He chose love rather than tragedy, but pushed us to explore its darker dimensions. We might have expected to see the tragic lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Or perhaps the harsh sexist Petruchio in the Taming of the Shrew. Or even the Macbeths, who at least had a successful marriage (as Jeanette Winterson pointed out in a recent ‘Guardian’ article!)


Instead we get Malvolio, the silly fop, from Twelfth Night, in ‘Deluded Love; the vainglorious Falstaff from Henry IV parts 1 and 2, in ‘Rejected Love; and the poor sap Benedick from Much Ado about Nothing, in ‘Triumphant Love’.


Somehow these three cameos come together to form a production – interspersed with some great, intelligent reading of several sonnets – that allows us to see and ponder on a more comprehensive view of love.


Although it is hard to imagine just how Shakespeare reached this maturity and facility for conveying such different emotions. He was eighteen when he married the twenty-six-year-old pregnant Anne Hathaway. By the time he left for London some four years later they had three children. He visited once a year, not settling back in Stratford with Anne until she was fifty-four.


So was it the luvvy world that inspired him? Weirder than Hollywood, it was a world of chaos and competition, of deadlines and dearth. Of boys playing girls playing boys. Surely a world of artificiality and untrammelled emotions; of Mr WH and the Dark Lady; and all set in a world of uncertain religion and politics, of disease and short life expectancy, that drove Shakespeare to write of super dimensional heroes and heroines, and in such wonderful language.


The one constant in Elizabethan England was that women were property yet the Queen had set herself up as inviolate and unattainable. The Virgin Queen as replacement for the Virgin Mary in a newly Protestant England.


Shakespeare wrote his women in celebration of courtly love, women of intrigue (Olivia, Hero, Margaret and Ursula). Everything maybe that illiterate Anne Hathaway back in Stratford was not. He wrote of their quick-wittedness and individuality (Maria, Mistress Quickly and Beatrice). In compliment maybe to the Queen.


By homing in on three substantial excerpts we are permitted to focus on individual characters and indulge in a more measured way in their language. Too often nowadays, fearful of modern audiences, players deliver lines on the run or largely replace them with meaningful camera close-ups.


Our actors, all of them, I felt had immersed themselves in their lines and spoke them with both feeling and comprehension. They stood on a minimalist set in an array of rich and sparkling costumes and had our individual attention, conveying well rounded characters allowed to step out of the text and shine.


It was easy to see through the weak braggart that is Falstaff, the really very unpleasant stridency of Pistol, the pathetic bombast of Belch and Aguecheek [Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek]. Less easy to feel sympathy for the vain Malvolio, but he made me try. Hal and Benedick certainly frustrated us before finally getting the point.


All came together: the baiting in Twelfth Night and intrigue of Much Ado with the rather meatier central section of Prince Hal’s redemption.


A delightful circle dance allowed everyone to admire how few and excellent were the players; how large a backup team had been competently deployed; how much thought had gone nto the conception and execution of the production, music and lights; and how smooth the running of front of house.


This little company has once again proved itself of superb and serious acting, moving from bawdy boisterous to intimate projection that might have been lost to an original audience or larger set. Up close and personal allowed us to immerse ourselves in character and action and to look forward to a third helping from this quality team.

 

Anthony Geering, April 2016