A TRICK TO CATCH THE OLD ONE
by Thomas Middleton.
Rose Theatre 56 Park Street SE1 9AR To 24 May 2014.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9565.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 May.
A Trick that’s quite a treat.
This is a slimmed-down, speeded-up, more-or-less modernised (to the 1940s) version of the 1605 comedy Thomas Middleton wrote for one of the contemporary Boys’ acting companies, the St Paul’s Boys, duly taking the side of youth against age. Not that there’s much of ‘children’s theatre’ about it – the play begins with dissolute young Witgood being chucked-out of a brothel now his money’s gone. He conspires with a whore to pass her off as a wealthy widow whom he’s to marry.
This enables him to con more money out of his creditors and, the main prize, regain the title-deeds to his estates from his rapacious old uncle Lucre, who holds them as security for loans consumed in drink, gaming and women.
Where’s the moral centre in all this? Pretty much nowhere, certainly not with old Lucre’s rival in rapacity and greed. Walkadine Hoard (fanciful first names, mixing religion and money, make the characters more sharply lurid).
Round the corner from Shakespeare’s Globe, the Rose is a very different operation. It’s the site of an Elizabethan playhouse, the foundations discovered in the late 1980s and, thanks to campaigners, preserved from pulverisation when an office-block was built on top.
The foundations are kept marinated for preservation while funds for further work are raised by an admirable Trust.* Thankfully, a small modern performance space scooped where once a higher-echelon audience box would have been, means theatre continues on the site.
Director Jenny Eastop relies on her actors, a few location-defining placards and little more than a couple of chairs. The result is more lively than refined, but captures the spirit of Middleton’s bustling comedy – Shakespeare apart, he was (OK, arguably) the finest dramatist of his day and Jonathon Reid’s engagingly scheming Witgood has the measure of the verse and of his lively, likeable character. Youthful energy and wit win sympathy over older, established greed and would-be coming.
Stephen Good and Cameron Robertson are as shifty, heartily insincere and grasping as could be found, while Alexandra Ryall subtly differentiates her whore with manners from her lady of manners, while there’s comic energy from Witgood’s creditors.
Theodorus Witgood: Jonathon Reid.
Courtesan: Alexandra Ryall.
Onesiphorous Hoard/Creditor/Drawer: Michael Watson-Gray.
Limber/Creditor: Alana Ross.
Host: Robbie Capaldi.
Walkadine Hoard: Stephen Good.
Pecunius Lucre: Cameron Robertson.
Director: Jenny Eastop.
*Events include a 12-hour Readathon on Saturday 31st May 10am-10pm with participatory readings of plays by Shakespeare and Marlowe. Information and registration at www.rosetheatre.org.uk