THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE
by Francis Beaumont.
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse21 New Globe Walk Bankside SE1 9DT To 30 March 2014.
Tue–Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu, Sat, Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 3hr One interval + three short breaks.
TICKETS: 0207 902 1400.
Review: William Russell 27 February.
Everything but the kitchen sink.
Francis Beaumont’s play, first staged in 1607 has historical importance in that it is innovative, and theatre historians wax enthusiastically about it. When it comes to being performed, however, it has for years defied resurrection.
Director Adele Thomas has given it the kiss of life and the result, although at three hours it needs to be cut by about 30 minutes, is a joyous romp in the Spamelot tradition, which, of course, drew on vaudeville and the likes of the Crazy Gang and all those plays little Ern wrote – not to mention Monty Python.
The Beaumont gimmick was to have the actors perform a fairly dreary romance about warring families, star crossed lovers and a wife fed up with her idle husband, and then get two members of the audience to interrupt and demand changes.
A grocer (Phil Daniels) and his bossy wife (Pauline McLynn) cause havoc by insisting their apprentice Rafe (Matthew Needham) join in the action as a gallant knight doing daring deeds and fighting giants.
The physical environment of this imitation Jacobean theatre suits the action perfectly, Daniels and the marvellous McLynn are a joy to behold, and Needham is a fine long drink of water as the knight errant.
There are pratfalls galore, faces end up pressed into every orifice you can think of, swords threaten private parts whenever they are brandished, there are lots of jolly songs by Nigel Hess, and a good time is had by all, cast and audience.
In the wrong hands the play, which really is a load of Jacobean odds and ends, can be, indeed has been, utterly tedious. But Thomas has tackled it head on and with without due reverence. The result – apart from the theatre’s backless benches and the inadequate cushions – is just about as good as it gets.
Michael: Giles Cooper.
Citizen: Phil Daniels.
Venturewell: John Dougall.
Boy: Samuel Hargreaves.
Tim: Dennis Herdman.
Luce: Sarah MacRae.
Wife: Pauline McLynn.
Mistress Merrythought: Hannah McPake.
Rafe: Matthew Needham.
George: Dean Nolan.
Host: Brendan O’Hea.
Merrythought: Paul Rider.
Humphrey: Dickon Tyrrell.
Jasper: Alex Waldmann.
Director: Adele Thomas.
Designer: Hannah Clark.
Composer: Nigel Hess.
Musical Director: Nicholas Perry.
Movement: Glynn MacDonald.
Choreographer: Sian Williams.
Fight director: Kevin McCurdy.
Assistant director: Caroline Williams.