ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM till 02 10 14

RSC, The Swan, till 02 10 14
Runs: 1h 45m, no interval.

Review: Alexander Ray Edser: 10 05 14

It’s a cracker.
The RSC’s production of the rarely performed ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM gloriously lives up to all the promise of the puzzle that is ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM. An early Elizabethan play it’s a tragedy in an English domestic setting; it’s not the tragedy of Arden, but of his murdering wife. It’s a moral tale, but it reflects both the growing commoditisation of England (Britain) and it’s shifting class structure. It’s a heady mixture of dark, even grotesque comedy and tragic inevitability. The narrative is incredibly fast paced, too; all the above neatly packaged into a taut 1 hour 45. And, of course, we have no idea who wrote it. If drama, and Elizabethan drama, is your thing, you can’t afford to miss this one.

So the play’s a little gem . . . But it’s nothing without a production. This is strong. Polly Findlay directs with a sure and informed touch. Whether it’s the scenes of hot lust, farcical missed murder opportunities, the Cohen-Brothers style murder of Arden, or the moments of contemplations as characters have moments of doubt or second thoughts, Findlay encourages her company to go for it. It’s the way to make the drama work.

Sharon Small is a marvellous centre for the play as Alice Arden. She amuses us with her wickedness so we like her enormously. Yet her horror at the murder she commits draws us up short. Keir Charles complements her well – just uncouth enough to be a sexy bit of rough. Ian Redford’s Arden is nicely balanced too – arrogant enough to add another piece to the big puzzle, but not so much so that he loses our empathy. Ian Bonar is a charming Michael – one of the many schemers in the plotting.

The production sports a strong acting company and we sense they never lose sight of the many layers of the play. And this all takes place in acutely and cutely observed designs by Merle Hensel. The play may be the tragedy of Alice Arden, but viewed from another angle, there’s the tragic ends to all it’s victims – Arden and Alice, and all those entwined directly or peripherally in its web – murdered, hanged, executed and burned at the stake.

I’ve waited more than 40 years to see this play; I have one great big smile on my face.

Joe Bannister – Lord Cheyne
Ian Bonar – Michael
Peter Bray – Company
Elspeth Brodie – Susan
Colin Brown – Company
Keir Charles – Mosby
Geoffrey Freshwater – Franklin
Lizzie Hopley – Mrs Reede
Joan Iyiola – Company
Tony Jayawardena – Shakebag
Christopher Middleton – Clarke
Ken Nwosu – Ferryman
Tom Padley – Greene
Ian Redford – Arden
Jay Simpson – Black Will
Sharon Small – Alice Arden

Director – Polly Findlay
Designer – Merle Hensel
Lighting – Lee Curran
Music & Sound – Dan Jones
Movement – Imogen Knight
Fights – Bret Yount

2014-05-11 11:57:46

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