THE HERBAL BED
by Peter Whelan.
Clwyd Theatre Cymru (Emlyn Williams Theatre) Mold CH7 1YA To 28 March 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 2.45pm.
Audio-described 25 Mar.
Post-show Discussion 25 Mar.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01352 701521.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 March.
A delicate touch of the herbals.
Peter Whelan stood-out from other, generally younger, playwrights commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company from the 1970s on. His plays mixed real and imagined elements with a rich verbal density, in an unpredictable range of settings, including the Industrial Revolution, the First World War, a 1930s Staffordshire pottery, the end of the Second World War, and the time of William Shakespeare.
Like Shakespeare, his plays were never set here and now. Yet they have been revived more than most of the RSC commissions of the period. This 1996 drama is one of two (the other being The School of Night) set in Shakespeare’s time.
It is based, like several things we know of Shakespeare, upon a law-case, this one involving slander by a Stratford-upon-Avon neighbour about the playwright’s daughter Susanna, married to local doctor John Hall.
Emma Lucia’s production looks handsome, thanks to Mark Bailey’s garden set and Ben Ormerod’s bright lights illuminating the daytime garden. But Lucia’s alive also to the things rank and gross in nature that possess the society around. There’s distress and tension and when Susanna’s father eventually appears, it’s after references to his absences from home (pursuing his career in London, away from his family).
Old and sick, he’s brought in on a chair, silent and facing away from us. At least it’s not on the second-best bed which was all his will bequeathed his widow (as this same space beheld in Vern Thiessen’s Shakespeare’s Will half a decade ago),
The benevolent Bishop Parry visiting Hall’s garden in act one – Gwyn Vaughan Jones, grey-bearded and chatty – is later seen in the banner-bedecked darkness of Worcester Cathedral, his authority exercised through the quiet insinuations of Llion Williams’s interrogator Goche, insistently ferreting-out suspicious inferences from innocent replies.
In contrast, Brendan Charleson’s Hall is a picture of integrity and Amanda Ryan shows Susannah’s dignity under accusation. Whelan’s play would, in any case, be an intriguing group picture of temperaments and social position, but knowing that old, enfeebled man is the writer who had examined more of humanity than anyone else ever has, makes it a finally overwhelming experience.
Dr John Hall: Brendan Charleson.
Susanna Hall: Amanda Ryan.
Elizabeth Hall: Elin Evans/Sienna Hayes/Fliss Pace/Hannah Rowland.
Hester Fletcher: Elin Phillips.
Rafe Smith: Martin Richardson.
Jack Lane: Alex Parry.
Bishop Parry of Worcester: Gwyn Vaughan Jones.
Barnabus Goche: Llion Williams.
Director: Emma Lucia.
Designer: Mark Bailey.
Lighting: Ben Ormerod.
Sound: Matthew Williams.
Composer: Colin Towns.
Fights: Owain Gwynn.
Assistant director: Rupert Hands.