To Build a Wooden O

Malvern Theatres Forum

****

WILLIAM Shakespeare is such a revered literary figure the world over that it is good to see a play that presents him in his everyday setting as an actor and member of a group of players, as a brother and a father, in short as a normal human being and member of society.

Nick Wilkes’s original play explores the earthy and often coarse world of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in a period of time when they experienced pressures to evacuate their playhouse at the ‘Curtain’ in north London in 1598.

The plot of land, though not the building in which they had been performing, was now owned by another. They needed to find a new home and a plan was hatched to dismantle the old theatre and transport it to a new location south of the river and to give the new theatre the name ‘The Globe’.

As Susannah says at one point in this play, ‘If all the world’s a stage, then call your new theatre ‘The Globe’.

This new play is a lively and characterful piece with many virtues. Nick Wilkes has a great gift for producing good dialogue, he mingles wit and humour into the script. There are scenes such as the one where the Burbage brothers are proposing the new plan and location to Will which are very effective story-telling.

The interweaving of excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays adds another enjoyable and powerful element to the story, but in the second Act there wooden owas a risk of Shakespeare’s Henry Vth taking over and the further development of the main storyline about the building and success of the new Globe gets somewhat lost in the dramatic enactment of parts of Shakespeare’s play.

This production had a lot of energy and life: it a good sized cast, the characterisations are clear and full of interest, there is an exciting dynamic derived from the ensemble playing.

Most of the characters have a significant amount to contribute to the dialogue and life of the scenes. Will Shakespeare’s presence in the company of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men is influential but not in any way dominant; familiar names like Ben Jonson, and Richard and Cuthbert Burbage become very real and earthy characters, especially with their accents and propensity to overindulge in their drinking; this was ‘necessary’, they claimed, because of the unhealthy state of the water!

At times the narration by the older and reflective Susannah risks slowing the play down, but for the most part her contributions are interesting and helpful, as well eloquently worded and spiced with humour.

The design for the show was simple: the scenes were established by the stage furniture and a few props which provided an effective and adequate context for the show. The sounds were provided by the cast themselves, the costumes appropriately Elizabethan. The performers functioned very well as a team ensemble: Emma Butcher as the older Susanna delivered her lines with great clarity and some humour, Alicia Bennett, the younger Susannah, had great charm, the men provided a varied and colourful mix of expressive characters with fine performances.

Nick Wilkes is a talented young writer: his plays have a great deal of life, colour, variety and verbal richness. He is an excellent master of dialogue, sometimes he errs on the side of verbosity and over-elaboration. He raises some contemporary themes, such as tax evasion, interest rates and the challenges to the arts. This is an enjoyable and enlightening evening providing a fascinating insight into a significant period of history. To 12-09-15

Tim Crow

09-09-15

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