THE MAGNETIC LADY
by Ben Jonson.
White Bear Theatre 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 25 September 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 5.30pm Mat 18 Sept 3.30pm (Gala, special price).
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7793 9193.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 September.
Caroline rarity could be something of a draw.
Three playwrights of Shakespeare’s time have traditionally stood out in stark contrast to him, riding high above most of the age. Not for them Shakespeare’s ambiguity and understanding: Marlowe’s heroics, Webster’s gloom and Ben Jonson’s humours occupy clearly-defined territories.
These humours supposedly made up human nature. A preponderance of one determined a person’s character and actions. It took a playwright of Jonson’s force and imagination – a bricklayer, murderer and classicist (only George Chapman more of the last among Renaissance English dramatists) – to make dramas that could energise such an apparently reductive basis for characters.
Unsurprisingly, Jonson specialised (a couple of tragedies aside) in comedies; satires on the foibles of recognisable types. Seeing Jonson’s last comedy in Elizabeth Elstub’s revival – the first on the modern professional stage – for Lights of London Productions as part of the White Bear’s admirably bold ‘Lost Classics’ programming strand, with James Sheppard’s stylish 1930s art deco setting, it’s easy to feel the spirit of Restoration comedy – also highly stylised – in a way no Shakespeare comedy would achieve.
Compressed to under two hours, with a cast of fourteen (just a couple of pieces of doubling) the production focuses on Lady Lodestone attracting men to a dinner to find a husband for her niece Placentia. But Placentia lies affectedly around, indisposed and eating cakes. How unlike the polite maid who waits behind her with intelligently-composed bearing. Pleasance indeed.
As, again, in Restoration comedy, character names indicate natures and behaviour signals social station. As audiences would appreciate in James Shirley’s The Gentleman of Venice seven years later, the gardener’s son so noble of bearing and the lord’s son with a compulsion to start digging wherever he goes, must have been swapped in infancy, so audiences of 1632 would find it natural that Pleasance is the niece, Placentia the lower-born girl.
Add the greedy Sir Moth Interest, the sharp servant Needle, and others and there’s a hustling bustle of characters in Elstub’s pacy revival. Performances are uneven, but Gareth Pilkington’s voracious Sir Moth, Michael Bagwell’s lively Compass and Juliet Lindholm as reticent maid turned sudden lady make a strong impression.
Compass: Michael Bagwell.
Lady Loadstone/Mother Chair: Maggie Robson.
Sir Moth Interest: Gareth Pilkington.
Placentia/Nurse Item: Jennifer Shakesby.
Pleasance: Juliet Lindholm.
Polish: Darrie Gardner.
Practice: Matt Mowat.
Sir Diaphonous Silkworm: Anthony Acosta.
Captain Ironside: Jonathan Benda.
Dr Rut: Sanjay Sutar.
Keep: Sharron Byrne.
Needle: Billy Knowles.
Bias: Andrew Chevalier.
Parson Palate/Policeman: Matthew Leigh.
Director: Elizabeth Elstub.
Designer: James Sheppard.
Lighting: Jason Osterman.
Costume: Catherine Wheaton.
Assistant director: Mitch McGowan.
Assistant costume: Loui Thomas.