Writer: George Chapman
Director: Brice Stratford
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
Genuinely, it is doubtful that for a fiver you will be more entertained in London. Sit at the front near the aisles of this beautiful church and not only will you hear everything perfectly (church acoustics are a bit echo-y) but you’ll also feel like you’re a character in this smashing play.
Brice Stratford produces, directs and stars in this revival of George Chapman’s story of marriage morality, court manners and bloody revenge. The eponymous hero, D’Ambois (Stratford) is a bit of a rake and when he’s called into service in the court of King Henry he makes his mark by enthusiastically, and visibly, courting the wive of a fellow member of court. This is followed by swords, revenge, the devil, demons, torture and a bit of sex on the altar space of St. Giles.
Essentially, this is a great play and a great version of it. St. Giles is a medium sized church, as churches go, and the entire space is used. The production is, in their own word “reactive” and use the space as much as possible. This means in the early part of the play, people who would be thought of as oddly dressed audience member just start speaking perfect Jacobean rhyme and florid banter. And what banter it is. There are some really nice passages in this, all delivered with unwavering confidence by a fantastic cast. There is a great deal of on-the-fly thought and action in this play, but everything flows terrifically smoothly for an hour and 40 minutes.
One of the things about a Shakespearean play is that whatever one goes to see, there is a modern cultural heft behind it. How many times do you see or hear references to a work of the bard in everyday life? As a result, everything we see of him is framed by modern experience. This play has lain dormant for centuries, so viewing it is akin to partaking in a piece of living history. These are the attitudes, the thoughts, the language and the issues of the day at the beginning of the 1600s in a form unadulterated by modern lens.
There is a lot of moralising in the play, mostly about wifely duties and general male/female relations. There is also a broader comment on how a man, or rather “A Man” should behave. One of the most interesting parts is that of the priest. He is seen as a religious and morally trustworthy man but assists adultery and summons the devil to help it. Really, and by no means is this meant to sound dismissive of what is a great work, it’s anachronistic but great fun as well as being historically interesting. In the course of being a man, D’Ambois is left the only survivor of a (fantastic) six-way sword fight, incessantly kisses a man’s wife in front of him, talks to ghosts and is shot. He is the proto-LAD.
As D’Ambois, Stratford is fantastic. Fully immersed in the rôle, he’s actually believable as a 1607 honour charged swordsman. The rest of the cast are also tremendous. Though a relatively small rôle, Keith Hill is a damned regal as the King and Rosalyn Mitchellas the adulteress Tamyra is almost heartbreaking. Actually, the ramifications at the hand of her husband for her unfaithfulness is a bit hard to watch so real seeming is the torture. The rest of the cast are fully good to watch on their own, though don’t quite manage the magnetism of the aforementioned three.
All in all, a good show. The language is dense, which is actually a good thing, and the action is entertaining. It’s a riveting story with a lot of relevant aspects for a modern audience, and the space it’s performed in gives an extra little kick to it. This is a long running play, closing in mid-December and tickets are only £5. It’s bizarre that more people aren’t shouting about it.