Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Four shepherds lay their bids on winning Pandora's hand: Pascal Vogiaridis (Melos), Felix Crabtree (Iphicles), Charlie Waters (Learchus) and the initially successful Stesias (Ritvick Nagar)

The Woman in the Moon

Edward’s Boys

Levi Fox Hall, King Edward VI School


Edward’s Boys, the unique and remarkable ensemble founded at Shakespeare’s school of King Edward VI, Stratford, are no strangers to the works of John Lyly.

Since producing Endymion in 2009, a staging that launched more or less single handedly the growing current interest in Lyly, it has presented a clutch of vividly directed Lyly plays, including the extraordinary Galatea (2014), alongside works by Ford, Marston, Beaumont and a handful of others. 

Each of those productions, by Lyly and the rest, has shown the company’s phenomenal gift for evincing irony and paradox, mirth, wild, insuppressible fury, scurrility and lasciviousness, unfettered youthful glee and embittered codgerly decrepitude.

But it has gone further, arguing the case for Lyly being viewed as the most significant and inventive playwright before the ascent of Shakespeare. 

Many of these characteristics, and many more, subtler ones are called for from the cast in The Woman in the Moon, Edward’s Boys’ teasing latest offering.


The pain of decision. Joe Pocknell gives a stunning performance as Pandora, the first woman created by Nature

This is because the play (first seen in probably the early 1590s presented by the celebrated Boys of St. Paul’s) in part a series of colourful vignettes gives prominence to a sequence of assertive deities, commencing with Saturn (the father of all), Dominic Howden culminating in the delicate Luna, the Moon (Jamie Mitchell), who take it upon themselves to endow Pandora, the central character (and seemingly the largest female role to figure before Shakespeare), with the various characteristics with which they are associated: authority, forcefulness, marriage, physical beauty and so on. 

This is all set in the dawn of time. Pandora, the first female human being, has been created by the Nature goddess in response to a plea from a cluster of swains, or shepherds (quite sophisticated ones), for a female partner.

Despite her youthful naivety, the Gods are jealous of her growing independence and see now, as she evolves, a chance to impose their individual characteristics upon her. We are thus faced with a double competition: that between the four swains to woo Pandora for themselves; and that urging the Gods each to outdo the others. 

Colour is indeed important. It identifies, promotes and lures. Each God, raised on a simple dais, is represented, or accompanied, by a huge balloon: red for Mars, Yellow for the Sun, Green for Venus, and so on. Pandora is both influenceable and vulnerable, and this is shown in a brilliant way: the colour of her hair changes as the Gods’ influence alters: pink, orange, white and so on. The wigs are a triumph: fitting perfectly, each with its own distinctive character. 

The swains, by stages encouraged and then dumped, are a lively and articulate if motley lot. Two, Learchus (Charlie Waters) and Melos (Pascal Vogiaridis) are old hands at Edward’s Boys, entertaining individuals in their own right, and well versed in capturing character.


The Sun stakes its claim. Tom Lewis as Sol seeks to win over Joe Pocknell's Pandora 

Stesias (the reliable Ritvick Nagar), the first to win Pandora’s attentions, speaks the clearest and most impressively at the outset. But later it is Felix Crabtree’s Iphicles who comes into his own: strikingly lucid, insistent, an optimist even when things seem to be going against him. The alert teamwork of this foursome is good, canny, well judged: one of the many things that makes Edward’s Boys stand out for continuous excellence, time and again. 

There are other vignettes, often to relish. Not just Ben Clarke’s elegant, subtly moved Venus (doubling as an impatient, sneery Juno) and Jamie Mitchell’s notably stylish Luna, the Moon who will ultimately win Pandora’s torn, but now fixed, loyalty, but Will Groves as a perky, riskily insolent, hovering and monitoring Cupid (adding Ganymede to his neatly managed triple role). Another Vogiaridis, Yiannis, made a marked impact as a scarlet clad Mars, whose speaking and delivery came well up to the mark.   

It’s obvious that the crucial central role is reserved for Pandora herself: the ‘newly made’ female whose identity is in the process of formation as the plot unfurls. But she has an ally, a highly active factotum named Gunophilus (‘woman adorer’), who supports her in her tussle with the practical and emotional conflicts that embroil her, runs errands and tenders sought for or, often, unsolicited advice.

The casting of Jack Hawkins, who also delivered a perfectly spoken Prologue (the quality of the verse speaking remarkable) as this busy and businesslike scamp is no surprise: he has one of Edward’s Boys’ most distinguished pedigrees, a series of energised and intently well thought through roles that have rendered him not just one of the live sparks but the most polished, in both speech and enterprising personae, of the entire team. 

It’s hard to avoid superlatives when talking about Joe Pocknell’s Pandora (‘almost a baby at the start’); indeed about any of the roles he has essayed, male and female alike; that he can carry off still such a classic role, the epitome of a questing female character (though as he suggest, it is ‘not so much about gender as becoming a rounded adult’) , with all the assurance and vulnerability though also flamboyance of all his previous parts for Edward’s Boys, speaks mounds for the intelligence and daring of this young, though now growing, actor.  


The successful claimant. Pandora opts for the ambivalence of The Moon (Luna), played to striking effect by Jamie Mitchell, of whom we may see more in time.

The gymnastics she performs at times with younger players or indeed a plethora of her fellow actors are fascinating. The varied looks and gestures are at times, indeed more often than not, ingenious; she plays the audience wryly, and hilariously; she manoeuvres her skirts (a lovely, fluid design) teasingly and alluringly.

Having attached herself, in some nicely played comedy, to one of the swains (Stesias) she is happy to proclaim, with joyous irony, ‘Give me a lover; let the husband go.’ Her speeches at each stage were masterful. When put out, and disillusioned, she shares her anguish with us: ‘I’ll be Lucretia’. It’s a particularly poignant allusion, underwritten by a unique tenderness. Having traipsed through all the roles on offer, she chooses Luna because it seems, she is ‘the most free’.  

Pocknell’s range and variety, shrewdness, articulacy, expressiveness, submission, defiance are all projected with the exemplary qualities of a professional. Keeping up with Lyly’s verse (in this case: elsewhere, Lyly prefers prose) can pose a hefty challenge (some of his intricacies were in danger of eluding me).

Pocknell burrows inside a part; he does not always go for the most obvious way of saying a line but probes so as to bring it new or added meaning. He penetrates meaning even when it seems at its most elusive. He above all of these gifted boys with their lively projection masters vast swathes of lines almost effortlessly. They must take a lot of learning.

They also engaged with Olly Harvey-Ball’s and Toby Ollis-Brownstone’s neat jousting with 1960s appealing background and alive set-pieces (the direction had a deliberate 1960s panache, almost expressionism, about it) with fantastic zest. But tone, speed and pace in Perry Mills’ productions always seem to carry you with them. As a bold interpretation of a sizzling text it proved yet another triumph. No surprise there.

Roderic Dunnett


Edward's Boys

Final performance: Wed 28 Mar (7.00) at Playbox Theatre, The Dream Factory, Stratford Road, Warwick. 

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