THE UNNATURAL TRAGEDY
By Margaret Cavendish
The White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4DJ to 21 July 2018.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sun 4pm.
Runs 1 hr 55 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0333 012 4963.
Review: William Russell 8 July.
A Jacobean farrago by Mad Madge never before performed
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-73) wrote plays galore, novels, works on philosophy, children’s stories and scientific works and according to director Graham Watts, who unearthed this astonishing and entertaining play she could claim to be the first British woman to consider herself a writer. Samuel Pepys called her “A mad, conceited, ridiculous woman.”
Her play is a collection of tiny scenes in which assorted persons indulge in everything from incest to marital abuse. It is frequently very funny as she lays into the arrogance of men and demolishes the behaviour of women on the make. It is also a bit of a mess, but director Graham Watts and a commendably versatile cast – some of the role doubling is extremely good – make the most of this very theatrical pudding and the result is both entertaining, shocking and something of a revelation. Cavendish is hardly a household name and however the script for this play fell into Watts’ lap we must be thankful that it did.
There is a splendid plot line involving Frere, a young rake played with aplomb and manic intensity by Jack Ayres, who comes home to his family after years away doing Europe and meets the sister Soeur (Alice Welby) he has not seen since she was a tiny tot. It is lust at first sight on his part. Soeur, who is wedded to an idiot is not at all impressed and resists his advances. But to no avail. Meanwhile an elderly family friend Malateste (Alan Booty) is having it off with Nan (Charlotte Monkhouse), the family maid much to the distress of his sad, placid wife Bonit (Alison Mead). When she dies he opts for a new young bride (Madeleine Hutchison), a graduate of the school for sociable virgins who seizes control of the household. And so it goes on.
The lines are witty, the direction pacey, the modern dress amusingly exploited, and while Mr Watts has not discovered a lost masterpiece he has put on stage a remarkably amusing entertainment by a woman writer laying about her with all her might at the follies of men – and women – and hitting home with some devastating insights.
Pere: James Walmsley.
Frere: Jack Ayres.
Soeur: Alice Welby.
Marry: James Sanderson.
Sensible: James Sanderson.
Amor: Phoebe Abs.
Malateste: Alan Booty.
Bonit: Alison Mead.
Nan: Charlotte Monkhouse.
Joan: Jesse Jones.
Matron: Norma Dixit.
Sociable Virgins: Madeleine Hutching, Lily Donovan, Eleanor Awal.
Tom: James Sanderson.
Tom’s Friend: Charlotte Monkhouse.
Frere’s Friend: James Walmsley.
Matron from 19 July: Eluned Hawkins.
Director: Graham Watts.
Set & Costumes Designer: Alys Whitehead.
Lighting Designer: Paola Capuano.
Sound Tape: Matthew Iles.