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THEATRE REVIEW: Arden of Faversham/ Clwyd Theatr Cymru

Veteran director Terry Hands dusts off a rare classic with some help from Gavin and Stacey. Philip Key takes a short hop to Mold

Published on February 18th 2010.


THEATRE REVIEW: Arden of Faversham/ Clwyd Theatr Cymru

THE well-known Anonymous wrote a lot of poetry, but dramas like Arden of Faversham are rare.

This Elizabethan tragic-comedy has somehow survived, respected by scholars but staged very little in modern times.

So it’s worth the short trip to Clwyd Theatr Cymru in Mold, just over the Wirral/ Cheshire border, simply to catch this oddity from 1592 whose authorship has variously been attributed to Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd and even Shakespeare.

Directing is Terry Hands, one of the founders of the Liverpool Everyman and, aptly, a former director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. For the last decade or so he has been artistic director at Mold, where he had produced his fair share of Shakespeare.

But I don’t think this one came from the Bard’s pen. It’s a rather basic, down-to-earth tale which lacks the majesty of Shakespeare’s writing but which is nevertheless highly entertaining.

Based on a true-life murder case from Tudor times, it involves a faithless wife, Alice, and her attempts, together with her lover, Mosby, to bump off her husband.

Terry Hands builds up the black humour of the story to the extent that it is more comedy than tragedy and no bad thing for that.

Murder? Comic? The running gag is that most of the attempts to kill the husband fail miserably, thanks partly to the incompetent bunch of conspirators dragged in to help with the deed.

There’s knuckle-headed house boy Michael, silly-minded painter Clarke, aggrieved landowner Greene, lumbering Shakebag (played by 6ft 6ins Dyfrig Morris) and, above all, pantomime villain Black Will.

Whether it be poisoning, stabbing or shooting, things all go awry. At one point, when all looks set fine for murder, a pea-souper fog descends leaving everyone stumbling around.

With a suitably “anonymous” setting (basically a series of sliding walls), the production relies to a great extent on performances. Most of the cast decide to play it big with grand gestures, loud voices and exaggerated expressions.

Brendan Charleson as Black Will, dressed in black with a large hat with feather, is particularly prone to ham it up to comic effect. He is a bungling braggart whose plans all go horribly wrong.

Hedydd Dylan, a delightful and charming Alice (but with a heart of steel) also goes for the extravagant expression once the drama gets underway.

Intended victim Arden is played with plenty of bluster by Ifan Huw Dafydd and gets some laughs as a result (well, he has been in the TV sitcom Gavin and Stacey, as has Wayne Carter as the revengeful and more serious Greene).

Steven Meo (also a Gavin and Stacey cast member!) is a sort of Buttons in the show, joining the conspiracy on the promise of copping off with the maid Susan (played by Michelle Luther who has not been in Gavin and Stacey). He often addresses the audience directly, explaining some of the plot.

The lover, Mosby, is given a dashing performance by Daniel Llewellyn-Williams, ripping open his shirt at one point. He starts off as Prince Charming but the character turns out to be rather charmless before the play’s end.

Played with no interval and running for just under two hours, the production fairly gallops along with no need for scene changes as everywhere looks the same except when a prop like a table is brought on or taken off.

Even with a cast of 12, there is a little doubling up (those Elizabethans liked plays with plenty of characters) but the story is fairly easy to follow unlike some of Shakespeare’s works.

There is some flowery language and a few moments of poetic inspiration which adds fuel to the theory that Shakespeare did add a few touches here and there.

Just why it has survived is easy to explain. Everyone loves a good murder story and, yes, we do get a murder before the end, quite a bloody one at that with plenty of Kensington Gore on display. It was also based on a true story which adds a certain piquancy to events on stage.

Everyone also likes a comedy in which things go wrong (think Laurel and Hardy or even, yes, Gavin and Stacey) and things go gloriously wrong here. Indeed, the whole play is built on it.

It is well constructed and although not matching Shakespeare for use of language has some gloriously realised verbal ideas.

And then there are all those well-written characters, mostly comic to be sure but with some extra dimensions to most of them to make them more than cardboard cut-outs. Each has a particular personality, from the scheming Alice to her cuckolded husband Arden.

Above all it has the universal themes of love, lust, hate and revenge.

Whoever Anonymous was, he (or she) was able to write a belting play and it gets a suitably generous production here.

8/10

*Arden of Faversham runs at Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold, until March 6. Box office: 0845 330 3565.

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AnonymousFebruary 17th 2010.

sounds good, might even go actually. A little forgotten gem theatre clwyd and better and braver than most

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