Theatre in Wales

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At Theatr Clwyd

Arden of Faversham- Clwyd Theatr Cymru , Emlyn Williams Theatre, Theatr Clwyd Cymru , March 7, 2010
At Theatr Clwyd by Arden of Faversham- Clwyd Theatr Cymru There are not many stages now that host a cast of twelve for a play from 1592. There is no other where “h-yur” for “here”, “ye-ew” for “you” and “con-clewed” for “conclude” are to be heard. The very first words spoken are those of John Cording’s Franklin in his rich baritone of a voice. Colin Towns’ music is used sparingly and there is much pleasure to be had in the sheer quality of the voices. In one scene I closed my eyes to appreciate better the near-musical counterpoint of the voices of Franklin, Graham Fox’s Reede and Ifan Huw Dafydd’s Arden. It would be a big mistake, however, to keep the eyes closed for long as Terry Hands has filled his ’ production with visual detail.

Stephen Marzella’s repellent Clarke, with his thick glasses, skull cap and paint-spattered robe, has a tongue that laps in lascivious anticipation of his encounter with Michelle Luther’s Susan. A gob of real spittle sits on his beard which pokes out at a horizontal angle. This caused a collective intake of breath from the audience. Hedydd Dylan’s Alice exposes the bare torso of Daniel Llewelyn-Williams’ Mosby and presses her mouth to his stomach. Blood flows freely when faces are hit. Brendan Charleson’s Black Will, in his wide-brimmed hat of the same colour with its dandy-ish three feathers, sticks his dagger into Steven Meo’s nostril and flexes it. He does not go as far as Roman Polanski did with Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown” but it looks painful none the less. In the same scene Dyfrig Morris has the strength to lift up the smaller Michael bodily by the collar.

With his unruly mop of hair, one sock drooping round his ankle, Steven Meo’s engaging Michael is an ambivalent character, swivelling between protector of his master and conspirator in his demise. But then “Arden of Faversham”, wholly new to me, is itself a surprise. Theatre historians would know whether it had its predecessors or whether it was the originator of the genre of black comedy. Certainly it has more foiled murder attempts, nine-tenths of the action, than when Michael Palin set off on his mission of witness eradication in “A Fish Called Wanda”.

Brendan Charleson flashes his teeth in happy anticipation of a bit of killing. Whether intended or not his casting next to Dyfrig Morris, rendered bulkier in his costume of shapeless sackcloth, is inevitably reminiscent of the murderous duo in the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo.” The tone too is similar, as is the sheer incompetence of the deed when it is finally accomplished.

Susan is regrettably a small part, Alice a large one in a sea of black-booted, sword-carrying men dressed, according to station, from leather to sackcloth. Hedydd Dylan is dressed in green velvet, with a Medusa head of jiggling ringlets and a single glittering jewel in each earlobe. The size of her eyes moves from slits to quarter-globes. She sways from the hip when she wants a conspirator to do her will. Her face has a mobility that goes from eyebrow to chin. Her voice can alter pitch in the course of a three-syllable word like “ruffian.” There are tiny touches like the anxious lick of the lips before the serving of a poisonous breakfast broth. It is a large, larger than life performance that fits to perfection the tone of Terry Hands’ production. “Glowing with promise” was the slightly weird phrase the Sunday Times wrote of her late last year but you can see what the writer intended.

The stage of the Emlyn Williams Theatre is wide and not deep. Martyn Bainbridge uses a few sliding panels for his set. There is one piece of flourish in the lighting. A white cloth is laid on the stage to depict the snow outside Faversham Abbey. It is lit by a single light from above, as powerful I would guess as they come. The effect is to cast the players’ faces, as various ghastly death sentences are pronounced, into a spectral pallor. To crudely paraphrase an early line of Franklin’s, in the case of “Arden of Faversham”, “sweet words are fittest engines to raze the flint walls of this viewer’s breast.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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