Follow by Email

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Jude Evans reviews The City Madam

Directed by Dominic Hill
Royal Shakespeare Company, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Tuesday 10th May, 2011

Matti Houghton, Sara Crowe and Lucy Briggs-Owen in The City Madam.  Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Massinger’s seldom performed play gets the outing it deserves on the Swan stage. Dominic Hill’s production shows just how wonderfully funny it really is, with the actors performing the heightened characters to superb effect. But beneath its laugh out loud surface, the production reveals the play’s deeper concern with the destructive forces of selfishness, greed and desire. Hill proves just how modern and relevant this play is for us today.

Set in the London of Charles I, Massinger’s city comedy dramatises the opulent and decadent nature of the Caroline reign. We follow Luke Frugal as he enters the household of his older brother, Sir John, where he is looked down upon by Sir John’s social climbing wife and daughters. Suddenly left in charge of the household, Luke begins to be corrupted by the world of money and wealth he has entered into. His journey is peopled by many characters, from those of new and old money, to a prostitute and a stargazer.

The audience will frequently be tickled by Hill’s production. Elaborate costumes, make-up and wigs are enough to trigger suppressed giggles, and coupled with the actors’ haughty mannerisms it is difficult not to burst out into laughter. But the play’s darker side is never far away. The elaborate features appear a sign of grotesque greed and opulence when viewed against Tom Piper’s brilliantly simple set. The design later complements the plain, prisoner-like costumes which appear as the production progresses. Tim Mitchell’s lighting also works to great effect. The stage is dimly lit by footlights giving the actors a rough, harsh appearance, and creating a dense atmosphere in the relatively small space of the Swan Theatre.

In a play with a large number of characters to portray, all roles are well performed by a strong ensemble cast. Jo Stone-Fewings is excellent as Luke, capturing his shifting nature as he becomes increasingly corrupt. The foolishness of Lady Frugal and her daughters is superbly played by Sara Crowe, Lucy Briggs-Owen and Matti Houghton who even manage to bring a touch of vulnerability to their roles and elicit a small amount of sympathy. And in the underworld, Pippa Nixon’s Cockney prostitute, Shave’em, is highly entertaining.

This is certainly a thoroughly enjoyable production, and one which resonates with our own time. It is wonderful to see the Swan back in full flow with stagings of seventeenth-century drama. And long may it last.

Jude Evans, age 22

No comments:

Post a Comment