After seeing a matinee performance of The Roaring Girl, I stayed at the RSC to attend an evening performance of Arden of Faversham, directed by Polly Findlay. The author of this 1582 play is unknown, though it has previously been attributed to Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and a combination of the above.
Like The Roaring Girl, the play was based on real-life events: in this case, the murder of Thomas Arden, wealthy businessman, by his wife Alice and her lover. The murder, which took place in the mid-sixteenth century, was discovered and the culprits were executed. It has been described as the first notable example of domestic tragedy, a genre taking inspiration from local and recent events; a modern parallel might be Patrick Hamilton’s Rope, based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case, or the recent ITV drama about the Moors murderers.
With a modern factory setting, the play’s update does not feel inappropriate: in fact, I could imagine something similar being written and aired as a television drama. Sharon Small and Keir Charles are excellent as Alice Arden and her lover Mosby, while Ian Redford is also good as Arden, and Elspeth Brodie particularly impresses as Mosby’s shy, nervous sister Susan. The play itself belies its tragic inspiration as it descends (or ascends, depending on your views) into farce, with Will (Jay Simpson) and Shakebag (Tony Jayawardena) repeatedly botching their attempts to kill Arden, before he is eventually dispatched and suspended from the ceiling in one of his own packing crates. The murderers’ names were based on the real-life soldiers Black Will and Loosebag who were hired to kill Arden, but I found myself wondering if they were named with a nod to Shakespeare himself.
This play was by no means perfect, but I did enjoy it more than The Roaring Girl. Short, sharp and funny, it’s worth anyone’s time.