Read Not Dead: Mucedorus

Mucedorus is the third in the Globe’s miniseries of Read Not Dead readings, ‘Before Shakespeare’. It’s one of the most commonly reprinted early modern plays, dating from around 1590. It has been attributed on occasion to Shakespeare, although it is now generally accepted that it is not by him.

The play tells of Mucedorus, Prince of Valencia, who disguises himself as a shepherd in order to sneak unseen into neighbouring Aragon to see the princess Amandine. Romantic, comic and tragic scenes ensue until the conflict is resolved. I thought this was one of the funniest early modern plays I’ve seen, and I was especially amused by the bear scenes!

Read Not Dead: Fedele and Fortunio

Fedele and Fortunio is the second in the Globe’s miniseries of Read Not Dead readings, ‘Before Shakespeare’. It is believed to be the fourth surviving play from the London playhouses, and the fifth to be printed, in 1584. Written by Anthony Munday, it’s the first play to resemble a recognisable Shakespearean-style comedy, with complex plots, cross-dressing and mistaken identity.

This was one of the funniest plays I’ve seen as part of the Read Not Dead series. It was highly amusing and very well acted by all involved.

Terrors of the Night

I went to see a Read Not Dead performance at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse with a difference – a prose reading of Thomas Nashe’s The Terrors of the Night (1594). Marking the author’s 450th anniversary, the Thomas Nashe Project is a five-year research programme funded by the AHRC, and this performance was related to that project. The text was edited by Dr Kate De Rycker, directed by Jason Morell, and performed by Peter Hamilton Dyer and Caroline Faber. It was accompanied by music performed by Ansuman Biswas.

The Terrors of the Night is a meditation on the meaning of dreams. Are dreams the work of supernatural forces, or are they influenced by the individual’s fears? It’s a fascinating exploration of the conflict between superstition and scepticism, and it was powerfully performed by the two actors in an atmospheric setting.

Read Not Dead: Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune

Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune is the first in a miniseries of four plays performed in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as part of Read Not Dead, known as ‘Before Shakespeare’. It is a very rare and interesting play: first performed by the Earl of Derby’s Men at court in 1582, it is one of only two plays that survive from the first fifteen years of commercial theatre.

The play itself sees the goddesses Venus and Fortune in a debate over who has the most agency in human affairs. They get involved in a complex situation but eventually everything is sorted out. Like all Read Not Dead performances, it was hugely enjoyable, performed well by a dedicated cast.

The White Devil

I’m pretty familiar with John Webster’s Jacobean tragedy The Duchess of Malfi, but my knowledge of his other major play The White Devil is much more limited. I was less than enamoured with the RSC’s production of a few years back, but luckily this production at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse hits all the right spots.

The convoluted plot begins with the love affair between Brachiano and Vittoria, who are both married to other people. Its pretty hard to follow, but director Annie Ryan does her best with the material and makes it as clear as it probably can be. My favourite characters include Flamineo, Vittoria’s brother, who wins the audience on side with his wry asides.

The costumes are beautiful, giving the production a Victorian Gothic/steampunk flavour. It got me wondering whether the Gothic literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries might not have its roots in Jacobean revenge tragedy.

Another striking thing about the production is its complex use of candlelight to create atmosphere and change the mood of the scene. This has always been the case with the Playhouse, but it seems even more apparent here. The cast tackle the complex language well, bringing clarity to a difficult work.

While not up to the standards of The Duchess of Malfi, The White Devil is an important Jacobean play, and I can’t imagine it getting a better production than it has got here.

Comus – A Masque in Honour Of Chastity

I decided last minute to see this unique play at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe. Comus – A Masque in Honour Of Chastity was written by poet John Milton in 1634, supposedly commissioned to clear the family name of the Earl of Bridgewater after his brother-in-law was executed following a sodomy trial. It follows the story of a Lady lost in the woods, who meets Comus, the God of Revelry, who promises refuge but offers something darker.

The whole concept of a masque is probably alien to most modern audiences, so I appreciated the efforts made by director Lucy Bailey and writer Patrick Barlow, who has added a prologue and epilogue, to put things in context and set the scene for contemporary viewers. The performance spilled over into the crowd, a novel adaptation of the space by designer William Dudley. Performances were strong, including Emma Curtis as the central character Lady Alice. Overall, despite the rather odd subject matter I rather enjoyed this production.

Read Not Dead: The Coxcomb

Every year Shakespeare’s Globe puts on a programme of play readings, known as Read Not Dead; thankfully, the new regime hasn’t put paid to them and they are still an important part of the schedule. I normally try to get to one or two a year, and on Sunday I went along to The Coxcomb, an early work by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. The play is based on an episode on Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Since 2016 also marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the Spanish author, it’s no wonder it was chosen for performance this year.

The plot of The Coxcomb is convoluted, concerning a man who falls in love with his friend’s wife and is surprised to find that his friend appears quite happy to let him indulge his lust. There is also a subplot involving a runaway couple. It’s not always easy to follow, but it leads to several amusing moments.

The plays are always given out to the actors on the morning of the day they are due to take place; they then spend the day rehearsing them before presenting them to the audience in the afternoon. Apart from the scripts in hand and the odd missed cue, you’d hardly notice, a testament to the skill and commitment of the actors involved. The Coxcomb was no different, with actors giving rounded performances. It was an interesting piece, and well worth the watch.