A YORKSHIRE TRAGEDY
(probably not by) William Shakespeare.
White Bear Theatre 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 24 January 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 5.30pm.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETE: 020 7793 9193.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 January.
Family horror-slaughter makes punchy drama.
It’s hard to believe this is considered Shakespeare’s work. Whoever wrote these ten scenes in 1605 took a journalistic relish in depicting the later stages of financial decline that led to a recent murder in Calverley, near Leeds – the playwright largely dispenses with character names.
Better still, the murderer’s from the gentry, owner of Calverley Hall. Judging by the carafe he carries in Andy Brunskill’s White Bear revival, drunkenness combines with gambling to create the debts that drive him to desperation, as his hold on the family home seems to be slipping.
The emotional heat’s turned-up by his ultra-loyal wife, someone to make Patient Grissel seem a tad outspoken. Sent to sell her lands to pay his bills, she tries instead for an alternative way to help. But, as it involves him taking a job, he merely lashes out in anger.
Hitting people is his stock response to opposition, until, when things grow really desperate, he turns to a knife, killing his children and attempting to murder his wife before he is arrested.
Chronicling events, enjoying the bloodshed then drawing a moral from it all, remains the way of popular media. Brunskill’s dug as far as possibly in the script, which mainly means exploring the Husband’s state of mind. This happens, but at the cost too often of losing the impulse of the verse as lines are sub-divided and phrases picked out for emotive elaboration.
Contrastingly, Charlotte Powell’s Wife carries the verse beautifully, though presenting a more stock character – yet she finds moments to create an individual being: her short-lived smiling pleasure at telling her husband of a solution to their worries she thinks will please him, or the horror at seeing her dead child. And there are fine details, as when Robin Owen’s apparently dead 4-year old shows a sign of life in a fluttering hand as he lies on the floor.
This rough yet vigorous play – it reaches the traditional Jacobean last-act blood bath after half-an-hour – is aptly played on a rush-covered floor, with small packing-cases moved around to vary the space, and finger-posts to locate the action.
Cast: Stephen Barden, Daniel Blacker, Tobias Deacon, Vicky Gaskin, Duncan Moore, Lachlan Nieboer, Robin Owen, Phineas Pett, Charlotte Powell.
Director: Andy Brunskill.
Designer: Amy Cook.
Lighting: Claire Childs.
Fight director: Lawrence Carmichael.
Assistant director: Victoria