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The Fair Maid of The West (Exeter)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Amanda Knott directs a right rollicking romp at the New Theatre in Exeter (until 10 September) as Creative Cow interprets the Elizabethan comedy The Fair Maid of The West.

Shakespeare’s lesser known contemporary Thomas Heywood’s epic play is brought beautifully to stage with tremendous gusto and understanding.

Played tongue-in-cheek with superb facial expressions and timing by a talented. versatile cast, the audience is transported, drink in hand, from Plymouth dive to Fowey pub to the Azores and Morocco.

Handsome nobleman Spencer (Jonathan Parish) has to flee England and leave his love Bess Bridges (stridently played by the very able Katherine Senior) after defending her honour to the death. There follows the classic ‘lovelorn girl rejects all others to remain faithful to absent heartthrob, rousts pompous would-be suitor and proves her fidelity’ while episodes of farcical mistaken and disguised identity lead predictably to the inevitable but improbably coincidental meeting.

All this is couched in sea shanties, superb sword fighting, knockabout comedy and strutting Englishmen versus the world.

A simple set – bare boards and a variety of staved containers – is cleverly employed as taverns, ship and court with the addition only of the occasional tankard, cushion and rope.. oh and a statute of Francis Drake.

The ubiquitous pantomime Dame Steve Bennett is the blustering rogue Roughman whose machismo is harnessed by the cunning of good Bess, while Toby Gaffney is a powerful presence as go-between Goodlack (and fight master).

Tom Hackney (last seen in Exeter in Dumb Waiter) is, among other bit parts, cheeky chappie tavern apprentice Clem who brings quick-witted banter to play while Christopher Barlow is fabulously camp as Mullisheg, milking every ounce of comedy from the character.

All, along with Nathan Banks, Richard Warwick and Christopher Talon, make the most amazingly swift costume changes to populate the stage with minor characters, drunken revellers, sailors and swordsmen.

Elfyn Jones is responsible for both the composition and playing of the excellent live music to complete a very entertaining evening.


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