Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Play first aid: 'Eastward Ho!' at Shakespeare's Globe

King James I, Mytens, National Portrait Gallery
A staged playreading, rehearsed in the morning and performed in the afternoon, revives jaded audiences. There's no bother about catching the last train. And without all the clutter, a work that's been dozing for a few hundred years can seem fresh. The cast's energy and the director's ingenuity distract attention from any cobwebs.

Today's resuscitation is part of Read Not Dead, a programme run by the education department at Shakespeare's Globe. In the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the cast are slashing their way through jests, japes and bawdy. There hasn't been time to work out all the pronunciations ("manger" versus "manga") but that keeps us on our toes.

Censorship is this year's theme, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the abolition of theatre censorship in the UK. Eastward Ho!, a parable of one virtuous and one profligate apprentice, satirises London life. Published in 1605, it landed two of its three playwrights in prison for some Scottish jokes which allegedly annoyed King James I. The gags have aged but the old antagonism has been boosted by the divisive horrors of Brexit.

'The Witches' Kitchen' (detail), Francken, Hermitage Museum
We're flying without footnotes but here's meat for costume historians:  

Gertrude: I tell you I cannot endure it; I must be a lady. Do you wear your quoif with a London licket, your stammel petticoat with two guards, the buffin gown with the tuft-taffety cape and the velvet lace. I must be a lady, and I will be a lady. I like some humors of the city dames well: to eat cherries only at an angel a pound, good; to dye rich scarlet black, pretty; to line a grogram gown clean thorough with velvet, tolerable; their pure linen, their smocks of three pounds a smock, are to be borne withal. But your mincing niceries, taffeta pipkins, durance petticoats, and silver bodkins — God's my life, as I shall be a lady, I cannot endure it! — Is he come yet? Lord, what a long knight 't is! — [singing] "And ever she cried, 'Shoot home'!" — And yet I knew one longer. — "And ever she cried, 'Shoot home,' fa, la, ly, re, lo, la!" [In today's reading, a snatch of a song from Grease is substituted here.]
A new age brings new associations. Mention of 'an old jealous dotard' conjures up a flicker of Trump, as does a rude song in the original called 'Golden Show'rs', although in this performance it's ditched for a few soulful bars of Wouldn't It Be Loverly from My Fair Lady.

There are no costumes and hardly any props. Who needs them? The river Thames in spate is a sheet of bubble wrap which makes those satisfying bladderwrack pops when trodden on. Given the play's context, a Meghan Markle mask supplies a frisson of treason. (The royal wedding on Saturday is on the anniversary of Anne Boleyn's beheading. No reason for saying that at all.)

All the cast give it welly. I think Michael Matus and Ralph Davis (if the plot is dodgy, drop your trousers) are particularly at home with the challenges of the text but you'd have your own favourites.

Brian Rix and colleagues
Eastward Ho! by George Chapman, Ben Jonson and John Marston was directed by Jason Morell.

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