Theatre in Wales

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Compleat Stage Assurance

At Mappa Mundi

Mappa Mundi & Theatr Mwldan- The Compleat Female Stage Beauty , Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan , September-28-13
At Mappa Mundi by Mappa Mundi & Theatr Mwldan- The Compleat Female Stage Beauty Francois Pandolfo is a regular figure on the stages of Wales. Not so long ago in Mold he played five members of the same family. Edward Kynaston, the theatre star of Restoration London in Jeffrey Hatcher’s play, is just one role but Pandolfo brings a vaulting elasticity to the part. He opens with a transgender performance as Desdemona, enters and loses a rough scrimmage of politics, and ends as director and actor of Othello. An actor playing an actor, within kernels of modern and historical acting styles, Pandolfo slips across the genders with authority. His is the role that commands and binds together Mappa Mundi’s exuberant production for 2013.

It is good for a company to do something new. Director Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones has turned his attention from classic texts, always given a freshly minted distinctively Mappamundian touch, to a script written in 2004. The history of theatre itself is irresistible to makers of theatre. Nicholas Wright dramatised another little-known piece of historical female-on-stage dilemma in his play “Cressida”.

The author of “the Compleat Female Stage Beauty” has been a regular writer for screen and the emphasis on action shows. The two-act structure is faultlessly honed but the writing lacks those seeded textual and thematic cross-references which build the inner architecture of a theatre piece. But a good script gets a good villain and Keiron Self’s Sir Charles Sedley is a white-faced horror of malice and vindictiveness with his lisped slur of “mincing catamite.”

A historical drama has its particular challenges. Background needs to be established but lightly. The script deftly sketches the period of London’s theatres, boarded-up and silent during the Puritan ascendancy and reopened to great public popularity. The nasty fate of anti-women ideologue William Prynne is touched upon. Choosing the language is difficult. “The Compleat Female Stage Beauty” has a touch of the “Amadeus” tendency to it with occasional modernisms like “bums on seats”, “fan” and “talking shop” popping up.

Mappa Mundi brings a characteristically jubilant sweep to its work. Carl Davies’ marvellous set comprises three stages, a Green Room, screens at skewed angles and portraits of dignitaries. It captures the packed hurly-burly of seventeenth century London where performance and politics are not far apart. The cast of ten, in their cascades of curls and luxuriant silks and ruffs, throngs the stage to convey the sense of urban and court profusion.

Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones doubles up as director and actor. His Samuel Pepys is a smiling courtier, his little diary and ever-recording pen never out of his hand. Lynne Seymour is well-connected Margaret Hughes, Britain’s first woman actor, mingling foxy charm with ambition. Hatcher has an intriguing plot development in that she undergoes a crisis of confidence. Her acting is an imitation of Kynaston and not the art itself. There is also an interesting slant in Rhys Downing’s Duke of Buckingham’s relationship with Kynaston. His adoration is not for the man himself but for Desdemona, Juliet and the other Shakespearean characters he has inhabited.

It is a large company. Liam Tobin, as always, is an animated Thomas Betterton, the archetypal impresario with a sharp eye on the box office. Elin Phillips is dextrous, clever seamstress Maria. Richard Nichols’ king is pitched between absolute monarch and under the sway of woman-of-the-streets Mali Tudno Jones’ Nell Gwynn. The king offers the players his own dramatic advice: “kill them all and make it jolly.”

Ceri James is lighting designer. At one point Margaret Hughes disrobes for a portrait by Lely. Sir Peter had a mastery for the capture of silk and the costume design is fully worthy of him. Wardrobe manager is Daniel Thatcher, costume supervisor is Sadie Highgate and the makers are Vita Stasiukynaite, Nicola Clay, Eleri Crocke, Sophie Thatcher and Stephanie Doel.

If the play has its small shortcomings the production has a full-blooded sweep and verve to it. There is not a touring company this season that is its like. Hatcher gives his hero the cry of all theatre artists: “Friends I have had. Give me an audience.”

“The Compleat Female Stage Beauty” tours fifteen venues in Wales in October and venues in England and Ireland until 24th November.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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