Foul Pages, 3***, London

by Robin Hooper.


The Hope Theatre, 207 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1RL to 17 March 2018.
Tues-Say 7.45pm
Runs 90 mins No interval.

TICKETS: 0333 666 3366
Review: William Russell 22 February.

A comedy about when boys were girls and boys

As You Like was probably written in 1599 and possibly performed shortly after that, but there is also evidence that it was staged by the Earl of Pembroke on 2 December 1603 at Wilton House when he and his Countess were entertaining t James 1. Robin Hooper’s comedy is about what the actors presenting the work in1603 got up to during rehearsals and is a backstage tale of rivalry, backstabbing, interfering sponsors and players obliging persons in power with sexual favours in order to get ahead – in other words just another every day tale of life upon the wicked Jacobean stage.

It consists of countless tiny scenes clearly intended to create some sort of mosaic effect which tell how fat boy Rob replaced platinum blond bombshell Alex in the female role and duly obliged James 1, who had taken a shine to him, with a little chat and tamper. This is set against the playwright’s struggles to stop the Countess from messing up the script, trying to avoid offending the King, and cope with the jealousy and backstabbing behind the scenes. Add Chop, a most endearing dog, who comments on the action and the recipe for a jolly romp which calls a spade rather shockingly a spade is there.

But the tiny scenes do not meld together into the desired theatrical patchwork, the endless shifting of a prop table for no obvious reason becomes infuriating, and getting the Shakespeare quotes becomes tiresome – perhaps one needs a better grasp of the source.

Hopper’s best creation is the dog Chop, played by James King with palpable relish and a sure comic touch. No respecter of persons, indeed a manipulator of persons, he prowls athletically round the place, knees well padded, wearing not a lot and sporting monstrous tail, while speaking truth and causing mayhem. Tom Vanson makes an amiable, but not very Scottish James, Clare Bloomer as the interfering Countess sashays around to effect and Thomas Bird is a sweet put upon Rob. It ends with the cast performing a dance which is so rumbustuous one worries for the safety of the floor.

Mary, Countess of Pembroke: Clare Bloomer.
Peg, her maid: Olivia Onyehara.
Chop, a dog: James King.
Alex: Lewis Chandler.
Rob: Thomas Bird.
Will: Ian Hallard.
Ed: Greg Baxter.
King James: Tom Vanson.
Mears: Jack Harding.

Director: Matthew Parker.
Designer: Rachel Ryan.
Lighting Designer: Ben Jacobs.
Sound Designer: Paul Freeman.

2018-02-23 10:41:00

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