Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Middleton’

This is ‘edited’ rather than ‘adapted’ from Thomas Middleton’s 410-year-old original. It has been relocated to 1950’s Soho, though in a clever twist the party scene is a Jacobean masked ball. Given that he has changed dialogue and character names and relationships (Sir Bounteous ‘Progress’ becomes ‘Peersucker’, his grandson is now his nephew), I think ‘edited’ should be ‘freely adapted’, though I’m not complaining as it’s rather fun (though slow to take off).

The nephew can’t wait for his inheritance so he steals from his uncle, more than material things in the end as he bags his mistress, prostitute Miss Truely Kidman, who also happens to be helping Penitent Brothel (no name change there!) steal Mrs Littledick (character formerly known as Harebrain) from her husband. This is all surrounded by prostitution, drinking and everything else you might expect in 50’s Soho, with the addition of a terrific jazz band with stunning vocals from Linda John Pierre.

It’s in director / ‘editor’ Sean Foley’s trademark OTT style which was pushed a little too close to Carry On Soho for me. The second half has more pace than the first, which is when the performers come into their own with 13 of them playing another 20 or so roles. Alice Power’s set quickly morphs from the streets to the homes and the superb music anchors it in both place and time. The cast’s infectious sense of fun ensures you have a good time at what must be one of the earliest farces?

This is accessible, quality touring fare and it’s good to see the RSC and ETT combining forces to take it around the UK.

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This is a long three hours! Unlike his contemporary Shakespeare, Middleton doesn’t have the richness of verse, depth of characterisation or profusion of sub-plots to sustain a long evening. Though there is still a certain resonance today, it’s still surprising that 2nd division Elizabethan fare like this is being revived after almost 400 years.

A bank clerk rather implausibly bags a beautiful rich wife only to find she’s soon ‘requisitioned’ by the Duke. Another beauty is offered in marriage to a fool and abused by her uncle. Her evil aunt colluded with both. Of course, it all ends in tears with an unfeasibly high body count!

The pace of the first 80 minutes really is slow and even though it picks up in the second half, I couldn’t really recover my spirits. 15 minutes before the end it seems like they thought ‘well, we’ve got a lot of plot to cover and lots of people to kill off with little time left, so we’d better get a move on’ because these last 15 minutes are an extraordinary choreographed surreal pageant to jazz accompaniment that seems to come from a different play altogether.

I liked Les Brotherston’s set and costumes, but I’m not sure the jazz ‘soundtrack’ really works and I can’t say any of the performances caught my imagination. We’ve come to expect more from director Marianne Elliott, and I’m afraid I left disappointed.

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