The Malcontent, John Marston's best known play, was first performed in the Blackfrairs playhouse by the Children of the Chapel, a company of young players probably aged between 11 and 14. So it seems right that the Globe should choose this play to launch their Globe Young Players – a new company of specially selected 12 to 16 year-olds who are trained by the Globe's own resident experts in the craft and performance of early modern drama.
Firstly, the company must be applauded for bringing out the comedy in this play of treachery and disguise. Mendoza, really well played by Guy Amos, who smartly captures the swaggering assurance of this cunning courtier, commits adultery with the un-rightful Duke of Genoa Pietro's (Ben Lynn) wife Auriela (Martha Lily Dean) and frames his rival.
The central character, the ‘malcontent', is the deposed rightful Duke Altofronto (Joseph Marshall) who has returned to court to reclaim his throne, disguised with an eye-patch, and masquerading as a sarcastic jester Malevole. It is he who uncovers Mendoza's plot (the adultery and framing) and uses it to his advantage when Mendoza asks him to kill the Duke Pietro (who has made Mendoza his rightful heir) and make it look like an accident. In the end, everyone gets their just desserts - following two poisoning threats and one attempted poisoning - and of course there's a masque.
For the most part Caitlin McLeod's direction brings out the best in her young charges. Only the final masque scene where all is revealed lets her down; it's just not as simply and tightly directed as the rest of the piece. She does however quite masterfully bring out the relationships and there are some gloriously entertaining scenes – Mendoza plotting with Pietro to capture the Duchess with her lover as well as an amusing exchange between Bilioso, a fawning sycophant well captured by Alexander Clarke, and his wife Bianca played by Brogan Gilbert, whose eye-rolling distaste for her husband is superb.
Other stand-out performances come from Sam Hird, whose rapport with the audience makes him a beautifully assured and delightfully distasteful Maquerelle, while Ben Lynn's Duke Pietro is suitably guileless. Joseph Marshall works hard as Malevole but it's a massive role – he has the biggest most witty speeches and drives much of the action of the play – and at times he seems rather swept along rather than being the pivot on which the piece turns.
As a group of young players they do remarkably well to tackle this complicated play and The Globe should be applauded for a programme that invests in developing a group of young actors.
The Malcontent continues at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 19 April