Here is to be found another little gem at this theatre; as part of their Lost Classics programme the ESPlayers, a locally formed company, directed by David Brown, present the first professional run of this Jacobean comedy since the 17th century.
Mirabel and two friends have recently returned from a tour through Italy and have clearly had a good time and are in no mood to settle for marriage, for as Mirabel points out. "What should I marry for? Why should I be a charge to keep a wife of mine own, when other honest married men’s will ease me – and thank me too!" But before leaving he had offered marriage to Oriana, his father’s ward, who is now keen to keep him to his promise.
Written by Shakespeare’s protégé and collaborator, John Fletcher in 1621 its plotline, of marriage and manipulation by smart, scheming and witty women who outwit and outmanoeuvre their male counterparts, was highly influential when the new style of Restoration comedy emerged after 20 years of theatre closures.
The decision to set the production in what appears to be the early 20th C and English costumes loses some of the flavour of the original which was set in Paris, and Nik Drake’s Mirabel lacks a little of the panache of this flamboyant and charismatic character; however his sidekicks, Danny Wainwright as Pinac and Edward Cartwright as Belleur are a superb double act whose personas are equally matched by the two young marriageable daughters, who set out too tame them, Kerry Wotton as the outgoing Rosalura and Joanna Nuttall’s intriguing and transformational Lillia Bianca, whose stage presence is commanding.
Whilst the main characters play it straight and for real, it seems that the low comedy characters are played as two dimensional caricatures who have escaped from pantoland, the slightly spiv like servant and the weird tutor, here played by Jackie Skarvellis as an over the top female gypsy-like Svengali with a non identifiable eastern European accent contrast stylistically wit the rest of the production.
James Sheppard’s simple set with its white boxes works well and the musical interludes add atmosphere, except when played too loudly behind dialogue. The dialogue, rich in humour and ironic wit, engages the audience fully as the plot gets more and more incredible; but as to whose side you are on is left to you in this engaging and entertaining exploration of a hidden gem.