Friday, February 12, 2016

'The Herbal Bed' by Peter Whelan

12 February 2016

I discovered this week that Shakespeare's last direct descendant is buried in Abington Church in Northampton. Elizabeth, Shakespeare's granddaughter, ended her life as Lady Barnard, wife of the MP for Huntingdon. This added a local angle to the Northampton Royal & Derngate production of Peter Whelan's play 'The Herbal Bed' which we saw at the Royal Theatre in Northampton last Saturday. Elizabeth appears as a young girl in the drama, playing in the garden of her parents, Susanna and Dr John Hall, in Stratford-upon-Avon. This is the first revival of Whelan's play since the original Royal Shakespeare Company production in 1996. It deals with the actual allegations that Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna, had an affair with a married neighbour. She was acquitted by an ecclesiastical court in Worcester in 1613 but 'The Herbal Bed' looks at what might have led to the allegations and how it might have affected all those involved. It's a cleverly constructed play: there is a great scene where four characters have agreed to support each other by embroidering the truth but each have been given a slightly different version of the story they are intending to stick to. William Shakespeare himself is peripheral to the play and does not appear as a character but is, nonetheless, a powerful off-stage presence. Whelan resists the temptation to throw in Shakespearean references or mimic the bard: this is more a social history of the period. James Dacre's production was impressive and the cast were all strong, though the show was stolen by Jonathan Fensom's beautiful set which inventively recreated both the garden at Hall Croft and Worcester Cathedral very effectively on the stage.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home