Summer’s Last Will and Testament

Every year, the boys from King Edward VI School in Stratford-upon-Avon come down to London and perform an Elizabethan or Jacobean play in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. This year it was the turn of Summer’s Last Will and Testament, a curiosity by Thomas Nashe, published in 1600 and believed to have been first performed by boy actors in 1592.

The story is more or less straightforward – Summer is coming to a close and is gathering his fruits around him before departing in favour of the long-waiting Autumn and Winter. One by one the representatives of Summer ascend to the stage to share their proceeds, before Summer passes away, distraught at their failure to secure his legacy. Described as a comedy, it is melancholic in tone towards the end.

The whole thing is bookended and commented upon by Will Summer, or Summers (originally a jester at the court of Henry VIII), played brilliantly by one of the older boys, whose interjections offer a link between our world and the world of the play. I really hope he pursues an acting career because he really is brilliant. There are great performances too by Summer, Autumn and Winter, and the supporting cast of younger boys are superb, playing sprites, dancers and even, in one memorable scene, a pack of dogs.

The play is certainly very strange but Edward’s Boys have done a brilliant job with it, and I’d definitely be up for seeing what they have to offer next year.

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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.