Considering their initial popularity, it is surprising that few Elizabethan (and later) City Comedies have persisted in the repertoire. Over recent years, the Royal Shakespeare Company has revisited a number of such pieces and shown how they can still make vibrant and entertaining pieces of theatre. Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday is no exception - providing, as it does, great night out for audiences as well as some rewarding roles for the ensemble.
There is a joyous use of language throughout the text, moving seamlessly between broad comedy, romantic parody and genuine emotion. Much of the comedy is drawn from the distinction between the different social classes and the language reflects this perfectly. Dekker weaves the language of the Elizabethan street with the more heightened (and restrained) of the nobility to create a real sense of personality, class and rank with great ease. It is clear that the cast have grasped this language and relish every moment.
Phillip Breen's handsome and witty production captures all the qualities that made Dekker's play one of the most frequently performed pieces of its time. He gives his cast the space to revel in their characters and finds the balance between the competing narrative strands allowing the different threads of the story to emerge with clarity. There could, perhaps, stand to be a little tightening of the first half which does run close to slightly outstaying its welcome - but this is a minor quibble about what is otherwise a top-notch production.
There is not a single weak link in the cast with even the most minor character being given their moment to shine. David Troughton (Simon Eyre - leader of the Shoemakers) leads the company with a huge amount of energy and charm. His love of language and life is infectious - it is clear that he is loving every minute and that is reflected by the audience's reaction each time he is onstage. He is well-matched by Vivien Parry's outrageous interpretation of his wife, Margery - deliciously over-the-top and inappropriate.
It is a cast of many newcomers to the company - and it would be good to see them again over the coming years. Joel MacCormack (Firk), Thomasin Rand (Rose) and Josh O'Connor (Lacy) show enormous potential to tackle a range of leading roles in the future.
All in all, this production is the epitome of what the RSC and the Swan Theatre is all about. Bringing lost works to the attention of modern audiences with quality productions. After a difficult year with the patchy Roaring Girls season, it is gratifying to see a real return to form.