Arden of Faversham

Tue 7th – Sat 11th March 2017


Clara Collingwood

at 11:53 on 8th Mar 2017



Director Anna Jennings’ 1920s reworking of the Renaissance domestic tragedy is an absolute triumph, providing exactly the right amount of cynicism and catharsis needed to engage a weary, week-seven audience. Fast paced and deftly performed, Arden of Faversham is one of the best shows of the term, and anyone would be a fool not to spend an evening embroiled in domestic tragedy, even if only to distract from our own impending academic downfall.

The tale opens with a merciful explanation of what we are about to see, to the relief of this reviewer, who has happily forgotten every bit of her renaissance paper, and has grown an aversion to nearly all kinds of ‘pre-meme’ speech. However, the set and dresses that were soon revealed were so stylish that she wouldn’t have minded if they play had been in Dutch; it is worth buying a ticket for the May Ball inspiration alone.

Lovely as Gaia Lambert’s costumes are, there is even more to recommend this tragic love triangle, in which slick delivery and production leaves you revealing in voyeuristic depravity. Is there ANYTHING more thrilling than the sight of a pink cocktails in bloodied hands? No.

The subtlety of Tom Chamberlain and Joe Spence’s performances made the dialogue as natural and engaging as any Saturday night fight you have listened to from your bedroom window. The cast work together very well as an ensemble; the intimate stage often holds multiple simultaneous scenes; our attention is deftly drawn from one room to the next. Arden dresses alone in his bedroom whilst elsewhere Alice plots his death, and the intimacy of this secondary scene is enough to momentarily draw attention away from the captivating Isobel Laidler.

Joe Spence is able to infuse any scene with wry humour, however if you are looking for something more overt, Black Will and Shakebag ( Georgina Taylor and Conor Dumbrell ) are the disastrous duo for you. The Disney–like villains, often shrouded in mist, provide a mixture of witticism and slapstick comedy. There is of course, the recurrent issue of the ‘northern accent played for laughs at the ADC’. The two actors may well be northern, they probably are, and I am not here to tell people how to speak, however it is important for audiences and performers to be critical of why they are laughing whenever caricature accents are at play.

CTR suggests that reviews should make reference to contemporary cultural affairs of relevance. Although this adaptation is wonderfully contemporary- it is not particularly relevant, unless you happen to have been plotting the death of your rich husband. However, the fact that this play has absolutely NOTHING TO SAY ABOUT BREXIT is perhaps a relief. The play however is not totally devoid of social commentary, and there is of course the most burning question of the millennium still to be answered; Shakespeare or Marlowe? Who the hell wrote it?

Moreover, a self-reflexive irony is played through the jazzy notes that linger over the dead bodies on stage, and in the (perhaps unintentionally) shaking walls of the ambitious set. This is an irreverent tragedy that laughs at renaissance intrigue and 1920’s flippancy alike, and it certainly deserves a full house.


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