Non-stop fun is the stamp of Loveday Ingram’s exuberant, and very sexy production of Aphra Behn’s The Rover for the RSC, in the perfectly proportioned Swan Theatre, Stratford. Complete with hysterical Flamenco forays, touches of tango, a stilt walker, and excellent on-stage band. With a Conchita Wurst look-alike, the bearded lady boy among a tranch of devil masks, in what is very nearly The Rover – The Musical, I half expected someone to break out into Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.

Except Naples is the setting for the late 17th Century Restoration play, at Carnival, to turn everyone’s Worlds upside down, then restore them to the same old cynical order. A steely 1920’s cast-iron stairwell backs the simple set, to represent both the keys to the Kingdom and the Whorehouse, in a very hard world, and for the arrival of four exiled English Cavaliers led by Belvile and our particular Don Giovanni, Millmore: Very possibly modelled on the notorious Earl of Rochester, he who penned poems about dildos and things and died at 33 of booze, syphilis, and genius. This production is good Karma, with The Libertine about Rochester’s life on at the Theatre Royal in London, and Millmore is played with wonderful gusto and skilled comic timing by Joseph Millson, giving a tour de force performance he revels in.

From the moment the Prologue is given to the charming and excellent Faye Castelow though, playing Millmore’s equal-to-be, Helena, so that we really know this play was written by a woman, indeed the first English female dramatist and also a spy in Antwerp for Charles II, we are in safe directorial hands. A knowing self-awareness breathes through all the strong performances, that liberates everyone to many kinds of play. Since Millmore is trying to play fast and loose with every pretty woman that meets his eye, so the director’s cuts have played loose too and streamlined things well, if you wonder if cries of “Mummy” or “Kinky” are quite 17th Century.

Then they have gone for knockabout comedy, and ad libs too, including some great audience interaction, not least when Millmore is drunk, that always delights a crowd. If turning a line about old men and impotence on a greying member of an audience that seemed predominantly over sixty might have been a bit close to the bone! No pulling of punches here then, in the lusty manhood stakes. The climax, with an explosion of rose petals from the ceiling, nearly had people up and dancing on their feet and crutches.

This Rover certainly underplays the darker side of Behn’s play, based on one by Thomas Killigrew, where even the finest women could hardly avoid being labelled Wife, Nun, or Whore. The shadows grow in the story of the very funny and then nasty Blunt, the stuttering English Gent with his hand on the purse strings, played wonderfully by Leander Deeny, who is gulled by a prostitute, described in the original cast list as a ‘jilting wench’, into believing he has found true love. There is little time in life’s seething energy for his brand of hurt though, his hatred of being laughed at, so he is driven off stage in the first half by the semi-demonic revellers. Only to return demonically himself in the second half on the edge of doing something very nasty indeed, where a comedy edges toward potential tragedy, to remind us what can happen in the real world.

What is revolutionary in Aphra Behn, and so provides the explosive energy of poetry and thought throughout, is her ‘feminism’ is no mere complaint about manly men, hate of them either, but a cry for woman to be equal in all. Or at least her and Millmore, since by the end you do believe the pair on stage have found their true match. Thus it is two sisters and their kinswoman who set the plot in true motion too, as Florinda longs for Belvile and Helena refuses to disappear into a nunnery. So, disguised as gypsies, they hit the town like the Cavaliers and paint it red.

The main plot sees the honourable Belvile trying to find his lady, against the machinations of the nasty foreigners trying to arrange marriages, and along with a joke about drawing the longest sword, a Toledo blade, a pair of splendid guilded boxer shorts appear, belonging to a very good Don Pedro, endless filthy double entendres ensue, and there’s even a burst of Rule Britannia. The secondary plot involves the Courtesan Angellica Bianca, and since Behn lived when the theatre was very close to the brothel, perhaps reflecting her own initials and sentiments too, who falls for lusty Millmore. Alexandra Gilbreath is both moving and funny as the whore who gives her ‘virgin heart’ away, to no avail. Though a special mention for her slinking side-kick in a bowler, Alison Mckenzie’s knowing Moretta, who gives a nod to Joel Gray’s compere in Cabaret. This is a world that in truth seethed with violence, sex and fear, where a true Courtesan might make much of herself, but the whore and the poor always paid the price in the end, although Blunt shows men can be victims too. Though since Behn was a Royalist – the play is also called The Banish’d Cavaliers – it is Millmore’s poverty, along with his wit and courage, that gives him his nobility and wins him the prize; not only Helena, but her lovely fortune.

You can read reviews of King Lear and Cymbeline below.  David Clement-Davies

The photo shows Faye Castelow and Joseph Millson as Helena and Millmore in the RSC’s production of Aphra Behn’s The Rover, in the Swan Theatre Stratford. Copyright Ellie Kurttz.



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Thanks to the RSC, and Gillan Doran’s wonderfully ambitious programme for the 400th anniversary, not least for bringing me to a play I’d never even read, Cymbeline. Despite a sinking heart opening the programme to see a picture of Dave Cameron, and a journalist lecturing on about Brexit and why after being neglected for so long this is a play that has at last “found its time.” Hmmm. Shakespeare is always profoundly politically attuned, though better at exposing the imperatives and mechanisms, the nasty guts, than being didactic or ever lecturing. Was the graffiti on the concrete wall then, along with the programme’s nod to Banksi, or an anguished model of a Refugee boat, to make us suffer a Referendum all over again? I think the real irritation is that for nearly three and a half hours it had me imagining Gillian Bevan’s stout, very capable Cymbeline, part Britannia, part Boudicca, as Theresa May, (with respect, a bit of a look-alike), or is that Theresa-may-not? Not that Bevan is at all Lilly livered, and now I know Cymbeline means Cymbeline and there we are!

As for their Brexits, or their Entrances, in a proudly multi-cultural cast, what also irritated is directors (now trendily called Creatives at the RSC) thinking that a lot of running on and off stage and gabbling difficult lines passes either for theatrical energy or realism. Though when the actors settle into thinking and feeling through the words and poetry, there are some excellent performances. Not least from Bethan Cullinane as Cymbeline’s much tested daughter Innogen, the black actor Markus Griffiths as a very funny Cloten, James Clyde’s excellently malevolent Duke, and the Irish actress Jenny Fenessy throwing off the tyranny of the poor understudy to play Pisania, while a treasure chest of language is thrown open.

Jokes aside, busy director Melly Still it is quite right to suggest Brexit’s relevance, since Shakespeare was born out of the trauma and liberation of a disintegrating Christendom, (a reason today’s violent Religious and Scientific divides  or Terrorism might be even more pertinent), if Europa was a word and concept only just emerging at the time. As still Top Monarch, Queen Bess, who made a lot of cash from Hawkin’s African nastiness, and thugs like Francis Drake, saw the loss of any kind of Empire in France, though viciously trying to plant Ireland. While King James mooted but failed to achieve a Union with Scotland. So how did Britain really thrive and invent herself? By putting money in everyone’s purses, well those at the top, from little London, and ruling the waves elsewhere, away from the internecine battles  erupting in Europe. Oh brave New World.

You can argue then that much of Shakespeare is also inevitably about the very writing of a new English Imperial identity, if only through the most glorious expression of the English language. The world’s centre of Gravity was certainly shifting violently though by 1600, in a moment that probably did define how Globalisation and Capitalism would develop and which has not seen an equivalent sea change until now. It’s not just Brexit, of course, but how the Internet is probably the equivalent of the Printing Press revolution. Perhaps Shakespeare is a bit to blame then, at least for that outburst by Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg limply invoking tigers, to give Cameron a prod. I think Henry V is about the conscious manufacturing of a powerful new political rhetoric, soon adopted by the ‘Establishment’.  Even as a once far more intimate Monarchy separated itself from the lower orders, and banished honest Jacks to the bilges and top sails, it conquered half the World, with planting, privateering trade and slavery, and owned it for a very long time indeed.Is that what modern Breixteers want? Not of course that Bill did all this alone, bless him. The Virginia Company was founded in the year the Globe went up on Bankside, 1599, just opposite that walled fortress of London, still a Global epicentre today in UK PLC, and the little Tudor cannons of the terrifyingly powerful and private East India Company were bristling from a fort in Madras by 1607.

That year Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund died at just 27, an actor too, and his daughter Susanna was married in Stratford. While ‘savages’ were attacking the new fort at Jamestown, King James’s town, and a little merchant ship called the Red Dragon, Henry Tudor’s badge, did performances of both Hamlet and Richard II off the coast of Sierra Leone. Britain had truly set to sea, and it was coming back in bucket loads. For hundreds of years the scholarly Establishment claimed that record had to be a forgery though, because the Common Man could not possibly understand their Bard, if still stuffing him down School children’s throats. To improve us all and claim Shakespeare was essentially Conservative and there’s nowhere like an England!

If we think Euromillions is an innovation though, the first free standing lottery was launched in 1612 to help colonise Virginia, soon taken up by all thirteen original Colonies, to give very early origins to that ‘American Dream’. Talking of which, having a snack in Café Rouge before the show I’d opened The Times to read with even more sinking heart that the usually balanced and liberal Matthew Paris had just suggested we toughen up on the asylum rules by suggesting what constitutes danger should now only be the threat of Death! Then that Donald Trump was ahead in the bell-weather State of Ohio, invoking the example of Brexit. If we think our own Liberal sentiments (or not) can sway US Politics though, when people were asked to email Americans to complain, they got some very rude replies indeed, about being stupid, Lilly-livered Brits and worse.

A little credence then to the relevance of the traumatised Brexit line, four centuries on, although the production has faced much criticism. Some slack too in Ms Still peopling a Roman court with Mafiosi Eurotrash in lounge suits, sipping cocktails and speaking in Italian, translated onto big screen sur titres, that then translate Latin too, when the big Romans claim their imperial tributes from the smelly Britains. Who dares to translate the greatest translator and interpreter of them all – Shakespeare? Well, Melly Still! That rather heavy handed moment is about the river of history, peoples and languages that made Britain and which Shakespeare’s astonishing English emerged from too. The first dictionary was only printed in England in 1604 and Shakespeare is profoundly a Renaissance writer. While to set us up for losing our heads, the set is dominated by a tree stump, in a glass box, perhaps to echo the production of King Lear. The rest is as hip, with film, and part concrete and vegetative back revolves, to suggest Nature will always break on through, complete with images of modern Rome’s Empire-littered streets and Dad’s Army Invasion maps to have you suddenly asking – Who D’yer Think Yer Kidding?

Actually I should underline that Cymbeline is a tragi-comedy. So to any grasp I got on the plot, untangling which might win you Brain of Britain. Cymbeline’s daughter Innogen and Posthumus are star crossed lovers, or most crossed by Cymbeline, so Posthumous has to flee abroad. There, boasting of Innogen’s love and fidelity, he is tested by Oliver Johnstone’s excellent Iachimo, who travelling to Blighty, as Rome seeks tribute, emerges from a chest in her bedchamber to discover Innogen asleep, nick her bracelet, and spy a starry mole by her breast, rude fellow. So being able to trick Posthumous into believing he has done the act of darkness and Innogen is false. Like Michael Gove Iachimo pays Manhood’s price later, when the War of Men without Women erupts into horror, or is that Boris Johnson?

There is a tangle of poison that isn’t poison and lots of people trying to bump each other off, like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. As Cymbeline revolts against Rome, Innogen flees to the forest, to encounter an exiled General good-of-heart, Graham Turner’s splendid Belarius, and her kidnapped brother and sister, Arveragus and Guideria, emphasising all the healing Nature virtues, and played very well by James Coonie and Natalie Simpson, especially Simpson as Guideria. Though in the tangle of tree roots or Brain-stem ganglia they first appear swinging from, and the whooping hunting cries, perhaps nicking far too much from Avatar. Mind you, did you see that article in the Sunday Times about tree roots being connected and talking to each other, even nurturing or throttling their young, in this global world of ours? With a very peculiar dream Mask, when Jupiter is invoked, to explain the meaning of names via a prophecy, everyone loses identity in going to war, or finds their manhood, though the Brits win, but still need a Cultural head, so pay tribute to Ancient Rome. So Cymbeline ends with the most astonishingly uncomfortable series of resolutions, more than any in Shakespeare, that had many laughing aloud, including me.

Cymbeline is certainly about a crisis of identity, but it sits not at all in Shakespeare’s overtly Historical or straight political plays. It comes among the later Romances, like Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, when politics, life and suffering had probably confounded the Bard a great deal and he turned his hand to achieving effects through acts of artistic magic. Perhaps his brother Edmund’s tragic death was influential in that sea change. Pericles was written in 1607, for instance, all about incest and lost daughters, but with a family crest that shows a withered branch only flowering at the top. It may be more true though that rather than Cymbeline not being popular for centuries because we had an Empire now, imposing its own tributes, it is because it is a very easy plot to lose. Melly Still throwing the baby and the bath water at it hardly simplifies, or leaves us quite knowing how to vote either. Even if Jacob Rees-Mogg should be told that despite the Histories, most of Shakespeare’s plays are set in interesting foreign and Renaissance climes. I thoroughly enjoyed Cymbeline though and it did not drag for a moment, though the bloke playing the School Master at the new Edward VI museum, backed I think by Mr Gove, told me, rightly or wrongly, it originally ran to five hours! Enjoyed it because just when you’re wondering how Cloten, chasing after Innogen, can get away with possibly being Posthumous in his very ill fitting clothes, so to trick Innogen into believing her lover is dead, his beheading by Guideria is almost hysterical. While Innogen’s burial, then waking to mistaken grief, and true horror, is probably one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in the theatre. Not least too because Shakespeare, inventing everything, even comes up with the phrase “Brain of Britain”!

 The photo is from the RSC’s rather startling and controversial production of Cymbeline, directed by Melly Still, showing a disguised Posthumous going to war with the Romans, as everyone wrestles for their identity and they try to shake us over Brexit.  Photo Copyright Ellie Kurttz. Ticket courtesy of the RSC Stratford on Avon.






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It was the woman at the New Place ticket office grudgingly lending me a cheap biro, then sourly commenting that not even the Birthplace Trust staff get discounts from the RSC, that had me wondering how everyone really rubs up together in little and hugely over-commercialised Stratford-Upon-Avon.  The house on Henley Street is at the centre of it, Shakespeare’s family house, and the shop where John was a whittawer, a maker of expensive white leather gloves, though the name The Birthplace does give the Bard the gravity of some kind of British Secular Christ.  But the Birthplace Trust are the chief Guardians of Shakespeare’s historical and physical legacy, running, with Royal backing, his house, the archive, and several properties, from New Place to  Hall’s Croft, Anne Hathaway’s House and Mary Arden’s farm.

“The Jewel in the Crown” of all Shakespeare exhibits around the world is how the reopening of New Place is described, highly ambitiously, in the bumf. New Place being the site of the house Shakespeare bought in 1597 for around £120 (I thought it was sixty) and the second largest in Stratford.  The house is no longer there, though the gardens are, where that mulberry tree was, until it was cut down.  It now has a smart new wooden entrance, where Bill’s front door was,  and sculpture park, I’m afraid I found rather fey and underwhelming, with lots of weather veins and things. Though I liked the Shakespeare Processional frieze, if I think that there already. There is also a new walk through-exhibition and shop in the Jacobean house next door, that belonged to Thomas Nashe.  That isn’t at all bad, with the odd little period object in drawers about the place and good time lines to make it interactive, though very much designed for kids and families, to bring ’em in. Well, the folk in the shop, where you can buy imitation jewellery for £75 and £140, were pleased that since opening in August his year it has topped its target of 12,000 visitors.  Though I was annoyed at the door that tickets, which let you into several properties, are £17 but you cannot buy individually.  So you can make a deal out of the merciless Shakespeare industry that has developed,  if you get it right. The foodies were trying to get it right that weekend, with a three-day event of global cuisine, at the reinstated Food Festival in tents around the town, and a bright red Pimms teapot. While a Michaelmas fair at Mary Arden’s farm, my favourite in terms of hockey recreations of Shakespeare’s living world, had mummers, cider makers, basket weavers, archers, falconers and a fellow with a splendid eagle owl to delight the wide-eyed kids.

But for me the real jewels in the crown, if not owned by the Birthplace Trust at all, came just over the way from New Place. First was the splendid little Guild chapel, just across the road, I had never seen before and Shakespeare must have known very well indeed. Since the medieval Catholic frescoes have been somewhat uncovered, with excellent placards to explain and recreate, it perfectly elucidates Andrew Graham Dixon’s point in the programme to the RSC’s King Lear (see review below), about England being culturally and visually blinded in the Puritan whitewashing of images, so giving space to the explosion of the secular word to make us see again, or in a different way.

How thrilling though to stumble next door on Chapel street into a brand new exhibit, The King Edward VI School Museum.  I had often walked past, hoping to catch an imaginative glimpse at Shakespeare’s shining morning face, because he was very probably educated here, six days a week, from 6am to 6pm, for seven years, if his real education was a pastoral one, in life and nature.  So perhaps were his brothers Edmund, Richard and Gilbert. What better way to start to understand the man, and with a very mature exhibit?  Lo and behold, the grammar school itself, given royal charter in Edward VI’s brief reign, one of those 120 or so that still exist, with more mooted by Theresa May, and which is a State funded free school, have, with the help of a million and a half from the Lottery Fund, just opened the place up to pedagogy, or lovely private enterprise. Modern pupils still have morning lessons there too.

It is exceptionally well done, a beautiful building, with positive comments from theatrical luminaries like Sir Ian Mckellan blazoned on the wall, a great little film by the always infectious historian Michael Woods, in the old counting house, very welcoming staff and none-invasive but interesting touch screen displays. Upstairs in the schoolroom even a very knowledgeable Magister, in costume, to tell you about how they learnt Latin and Greek, though I’m not at all sure Shakespeare would have had fluent Latin, sat not at desks but opposite each other, and had to learn things by rote.  Quite enough to make any young Shakespeare play truant and run off to the grounds of Charlcotte to hunt deer, or to London to become the greatest and raunchiest playwright that ever lived. The Bard of course, that “upstart crow”, never went to University, unlike Robert Greene or Kit Marlowe, but still topped them all.  Probably one of the reasons people come up with their snobbish Earl of Oxford or Francis Bacon theories, though what would it do to the Stratford gold mine if it was ever proved?

Still part of the modern school, that has created a trust to preserve and open the building, it is really the epicentre of the historical town too. For here before the Reformation was the Guild of the Holy Cross, that turned into the town council, one Shakespeare’s father John sat on, for all his naughty dealings.  Where a court was held too, downstairs, and upstairs perhaps professional players had to perform before snooty aldermen to get a licence. I say perhaps because with lack of records a deal is still speculation in the whole Shakespeare story, from the bogusness of Hall’s Croft, to certainties about most of the properties.  But it was there, and because it thrives as an active and artistic school to the present, that I really felt in touch with the living Shakespeare story. The ‘school master’ was a bit sheepish about how the Museum is doing, but then it is in competition with The Birthplace, and still has to be properly placed on the Shakespeare map.  It should and will be, because it’s very good indeed and should certainly have no one creeping unwillingly to school!

David Clement-Davies was given entry courtesy of The Birthplace Trust and independent King Edward School Museum. The photo is of the knowledgeable ‘Elizabethan’ school master in situ.




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king-lear-production-photos_-2016_2016_photo-by-ellie-kurttz-_c_-rsc_202320Andrew Graham Dixon’s article in the programme made me realise why the RSC’s coldly magnificent King Lear stumbles in trying to make us see, and feel too. As the art critic says, Lear is all about blindness and seeing, the loss and recovery both of perspective and true moral vision. Whether or not England had been ‘blinded’ during the Reformation, with the whitewashing of frescos and Religious paintings, so its dislocation from thousands of years of history and experience, or only through that could discover an entirely new way of defining reality: The hard Modern World.

Sight though, in all its meanings, is epitomised in the myopia of the mighty King, and ultimate father figure, failing to read the cynical language of his ambitious daughters Goneril and Regan, in his unnatural parental search for the unconditional, as Lear abdicates responsibility and divides his Kingdom and himself. With his banishment both of his favourite daughter Cordelia, for refusing to unpack her true heart with words, and the loyal Kent for defending her.

Metaphor becomes physical fact in the vicious blinding of Gloucester, played admirably by David Troughton, and achieved in Niki Turner’s bold designs by placing Gloucester in a huge glass interrogation box, worthy of The Cube, symbolic both of trial and the  separations of blindness and madness, that soon becomes smeared with his and Cornwall’s blood, as an eyeball bounces off the pane. The odd giggle in the audience was either a reflection of deep unease at real horror, or our own desensitization in a world that sees so much in film and the news. Yet for all the agonies of Lear, the blinding is a very specific act indeed, far from the simply bloodcurdling violence of a play like Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare is very rarely pornographic or gratuitous. In fact the real horrors of Lear are about the inner agonies of mind and imagination, when truly exposed to the whole world. Just as Edgar’s disguise as Poor Tom imagines suffering, and the Foul Fiend too, as much as experiencing them, in an act of feigned madness akin to Hamlet’s.  Lear’s is not quite an arbitrary moral Universe either, just a blasted heath, since Lear’s vanity and Gloucester’s fatherly hypocrisy to his bastard son Edmund, not stressed enough by Troughton, directly unleash what always potentially lurks beneath and engenders the attempts at Judgement and search for poetic Justice. Or rather it puts them on trial too, whether more sinned against than sinning. In the vexed paradox too that if the truth of the World really is violence and the abyss, why should you not be as amoral, vicious or corrupt as the next man?  Pre-empting Nietzsche’s remark that if you stare too long into the abyss, you will find it staring back into you.

So to Lear’s journey towards recovering humanity, or death, his travels with his fool and encounter with Gloucester, after Edgar’s leading his father to a faked suicide on the beetling cliffs of Dover. Graham Dixon quotes Frank Kermode calling that “the most beautiful scene in all Shakespeare” and so it may be. It is more than that though, it is part exorcism and precisely what Shakespeare has Edgar call it too, “a Miracle”.  Or an attempted human miracle, in a now Godless Universe. In that Gillan Doran’s sparse, metallic and pointedly pagan production, raising Lear on a great plinth at the start, among a painted Sun and eclipsing Moon, and their inevitable, ceaseless peregrinations, in an age that still profoundly credited astrology, and used it as excuse, prepare for Anthony Sher’s studiedly formal but now ultimately impotent invocations against his daughters, or the World. Lear as King Priest too, though curses in Shakespeare usually turn on those invoking them.

It also might frame the play in terms of how others have described King Lear, as old fashioned Miracle play, banned in the secularisation of the Reformation, springing from a profound tension in Shakespeare’s own rooted ‘Religious’ instincts, although that is not its main purpose here. This Lear certainly approaches the grandeur of the Miracle cycles, yet the miracle Shakespeare tries for, and so must the actors, is now a secular and imagined one, like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner forging its own language of artistic symbolism, reached with only the artistry of mind and language itself, balancing journeys of inner and outer perception and perspective.  Also as Coleridge did, making the distinction between mere fancy and true imagination, which can only be touched with real feeling. Just as Shakespeare’s poetry and vision, the stamp of his imaginative wonder, is always a constant movement between the minute and the universal, a specific act of ‘seeing’ and almost physical entering in, akin to Keat’s “negative capability’. So Edgar leads his father Gloucester through a frustrated act of self-slaughter, in an almost Christian sacrifice to the absent Gods we fear treat us like flies, then provides a minutely precise rebalancing, in describing what did not happen, now from the bottom of the abyss. So reimagining everyone’s place in the Universe, in the recovery if not necessarily of hope, then at least perspective. “Half way down hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade! Methinks he seems no bigger than his head”.  It is an act of profound psychology that could give rise to the very word Shrink.

Of course, as Graham Dixon also compares Shakespeare and Lear to the arrival of an artist like the blood spattered Caravaggio, though still connected to Christian and Catholic iconography, Shakespeare is a painter too, but with words, in what was the Age of the Word, as opposed to ours of the image. It is a given then he was and is the greatest word painter who ever lived. Therein lies the rub though, if one you might expect from a strong director like Gillan Doran, also Artistic Director of the RSC. Doran’s production does not cleave enough to the source power of Shakespeare’s language and poetry, and his players discovering them in the intimate act, always the route in my view, through every character, to his ultimate vision and meaning.

Instead, ala Graham Dixon, Doran presents this Lear as almost a series of set piece paintings; Lear on his un-heavenly dais, Lear on a chariot-funeral bier that presses forwards on the essentially framed Proscenium stage, Lear at dinner with his fractious Knights, or a back-lit static battle scene that evokes the Bayeux Tapestry. The tree at the back seems to be trying to win the Turner Prize. If words always paint pictures, a play is not a painting though, it springs alive from the frame, as living theatre.

The production, which seems to have been a sell out, is startling and innovative, at times, like Lear and his fool raised again into airy nothing, not in the calm eye but the curled tear of a swirling storm. It is also somewhat superfluous, because that is exactly what Shakespeare is explaining, through the Gloucester moment, and Lear lost on the Heath, with the movement of his own language and ‘vision’; the nature and miracle of imagination, and how to see in balance again, or go Mad.

For me Lear’s true miracle then should still be achieved through the unaccommodated intimacies of the round, both the humanisation and de-humansisation of suffering, the humbling encounters with Everyman, framed by the world’s blasted heath, not something so distant and lofty. That is what ultimately rakes the heart and dislocated soul, pierces the hurt mind, and might turn terror to tenderness, to make it a play that really is a miracle of creative humanity. Also how Dr Johnson described King Lear though, and which this production is frustratingly not, namely “unbearable”. Instead it remains for me a rather cold tableaux, admittedly exacerbated by my restricted-view seat up in the ‘Gods’.

Sher is of course a marvellous actor, but only truly recovers Lear’s magnificent humanity in the second half, now a foolish, fond and human old man, but if a fool, one with a new wisdom and beauty. Too late to save him and Cordelia, but such is life, if the play or art cannot humanise or change us, and perhaps anyway. The point too though is that for all Lear’s kingly tyranny, what is at times obscene in his life denying cursing of his own daughters, engendering that terrible Nothing, he must also have the love and greatness of the Father King, to elicit the loyalty of the morally positive characters in the first place. Sher is not allowed to show that nearly enough in the long first half, despite the original and intense clinches with his ‘bad’ daughters, an actor who certainly could. Let the actors burst from the frame.

Perhaps that is why the others seem at times dislocated from one another too, in their own frames, and what are vital and very intimate transformative journeys. Which must be enacted with a commitment and love too that raise them to the spiritual and mystical, not the somewhat throw away joke by Oliver Johnstone’s Edgar, preceding Gloucester’s jump, nor Cordelia’s unsymbolic recitation of a bunch of herbs. Cordelia, played by Natalie Simpson, is at once very flesh and blood and symbol of Shakespearian earth magic, as Kent is of a neo Christian duty. I shed a tear at Lear’s description of her death, yet had not been able to love Cordelia, as you must if the play is also to achieve an insight Shakespeare is obsessed with throughout his work, the danger to the powerful masculine if the positive and honest feminine is ripped away, inside or out. That is often the very route to violence, inflation and madness. Also grounded in the story of a mythical character never really mentioned but profoundly operative in Shakespeare, also a story of sight and blinding, King Oedipus.

For me Graham Turner’s fool has skill but is too belligerent to be lovable either, first by shrugging off the audience, to break the fourth wall, and secondly in not truly discovering that tenderness that constitutes some act of healing of the Self too. What is also lost is the seething power of the sub plot, driven by the primal forces of youth and sexuality, along with those ‘New Men’ in a violently changing Elizabethan world, that can make Lear cry “let copulation thrive”. Paapa Essiedu’s Edmund is not bad, but too coy. Edmund is a life force, if a death force too. You must, in Edmund’s “now God’s stand up for bastards”, somewhere want him to succeed, as if you too would overturn the Monster Custom and an unjust and blind social order, even though the consequences may be too horrible to contemplate. It is Lear’s profound question about what Nature and human nature truly are, for Nature was Shakespeare’s Goddess too, but one that would come to cause him a lot of trouble. Essiedu gives Edmund far too much moral doubt at the start then, perhaps to justify his later attempt to save the King and Cordelia. The agony of the play must achieve that understanding and change by earning it, not pre-empting it. With a magnificently visual King Lear then you still want to come out sobbing, not left intellectualising about a walk through the Tate Modern, for as Lear comments “Life’s better at breaking hearts than art is.”

The picture shows Anthony Sher as King Lear, consoling David Troughton’s blinded Gloucester. Copyright Ellie Kurttz. Lear was on the main stage in Stratford on Avon. Ticket courtesy of the RSC.


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“A relentless task” is the phrase The Director of Eden Arts, Adrian Lockhead, uses to express his attempts to create artistic events that also display Public accountability. In the light of questions, criticisms and suggestions made here about this year’s Summer Pudding Festival at Appleby Castle, on the 20th of August last, and his hand in the pudding mix.   The remark came in the wake of the ‘disaster’ the event proved financially, according to Mr Lockhead, the event’s head chef, if you like, indeed bringing a threat to jobs, he says. After a near glorious week of midsummer sunshine saw such a torrential and relentless downpour, it touched the hearts and flagging spirits of many.

If not quite a total washout then, with folk and families still braving the day, it proved a very soggy summer pudding indeed, certainly worthy of input from the great British Bake-Off team. Perhaps next time they should invite Mary Berry. The After Party in front of the splendid Concert stage, erected in the Castle Keep, like a Great White Shark’s mouth, and hosting excellent bands, was still over populated by folk from the acts themselves, despite the efforts of a giant and charming stilt-walking White Rabbit to welcome all.

I was among those initially praising Adrian Lockhead’s efforts, and the whole style and ambition of the thing too. Especially now the owner of Appleby Castle Sally Nightingale has so stated her intention of throwing open wide the Castle gates once again, making valiant efforts to do so too. With colourful banners blazoned across the A66 though, and imaginative flyers dropping into your puddings from The Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, a great deal of work was done by Eden Arts and high expectations certainly raised.   It had all received Arts Council backing and impressive Corporate Sponsorship too, and I for one was much looking forward to it. Locals were impressed both with the £2 entry for same Postcode friends, but with deals done with local shops, for discounts if you had an arm band.

Ironically the Pudding could not have had worse weather though, even for Cumbria, and in the middle of August too, so perhaps it is dangerous to invoke such Gods of Flood and Storm. It was hugely unlucky, beyond even the powers of Adrian Lockhead to cater for, perhaps. Yet Cumbrians are well used to waiting and not going out because of the weather. While does that justify his saying to me, perhaps a little glibly as soon as I met him, “Well, we’ve done all we can”?

That is certainly to blame the weather, when other things might be in play too. But why then was there little or no response to my asking how such an event might be made weather-proof and advertised as such? Time involved was mentioned, yet it was not only the problem of great gloopy pools of muddy water appearing at the gates, unswept away, or the WW1-like duck boards outside the Vintage Tent turning into Paschendale. Not the kind of Vintage your really need. But the fact I know of at least one marquee offered free of charge and refused. Which also points to questions raised about where the acts came from and why there was not more local input and involvement?

Of course folk soldiered on valiantly, jokes were cracked, fun was had, trails and walks enjoyed, some of the many Porta-loos used, and this is Cumbria, as one young singer bravely intoned. The frustration here though is not the problem of doing anything by committee, even of relentless accountability, nor the desire for anything but quality and joy to draw visitors and generate excitement. But Mr Lockhead’s obvious disinterest in engaging in new or outside ideas, or accepting some creative criticism for his dish. So ignoring the offer of an Independent report on the Festival, along with wider suggestions for other ways in which Appleby might me made a long-term focus for Art and Commerce in the region, which it well might.

The Castle is not only of huge historical significance and a wonderful setting, as a late-clearing evening began to reveal, and a previously seen performance of As You Like It too, but is part of the long-looked-for spiritual centre of the town, though perhaps a spirit that needs truly recovering still, and one not only about Lady Anne Clifford. Other odd things happened then that might bring into question a certain professionalism, and basic courtesy too, from several quarters.

So though to a suggestion that things be explored more deeply and Appleby actually be put firmly on the map again, with an Annual ‘Art Flood’ instead. Which would commemorate this year’s flood disaster certainly, and the probability of future problems too, now the Climate changes, as it always will. But not just to raise money or spirits, and focus on one thing alone, but with a brilliant County and National flood of Art, Music, Literature and Theatre, and over a longer period. Who knows, you could even invite that fellow who wrote his book about Sheep. That is with no disrespect at all to the people of Appleby, nor to the excellent acts and bands that did appear, but a belief that Cumbrians deserve the very best and if you really build (or cook it), they will come. This Summer Pudding then, foul weather or not, was not yet it and since all have different tastes, I would like a starter, fish course and main too, to go alongside any just desserts.

Whether the idea of a one day pud is delicious or not then, obviously making it so vulnerable to the elements, it should always have been treated as a wider test case and a way to stimulate both new ideas, but also much deeper reciprocity. Adrian Lockhead claims that the vast majority of comments he has received were very supportive, yet I wonder if that is true of the people not really invited to the party, or those not interested in just muddling through, or if he should not engage with all, and as relentlessly as the Cumbrian weather.

The photo shows the ‘Shark stage’ at the Summer Pudding in front of Appleby’s ancient and remarkable Keep, with folk waiting for a party.

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Lost Shakespeare sonnet unearthed?

In the four hundredth anniversary year of William Shakespeare’s death, laid to rest in Holy Trinity church in Stratford in 1616, a storm of excitement and controversy has erupted over the claimed discovery of a lost Shakespeare sonnet, which if proved genuine would change the cannon forever and which for its content has wide ranging implications over the question of the Bard’s purported Catholicism.

The single Elizabethan page, Elizabethan on quilted paper at least, and seeming to be in that classic, scrolling “Secretary” script, was unearthed in papers once belonging to the American couple The Wallaces, who came to England in the 1920’s to read through half of the millions of documents in the National Archive. In doing so they uncovered an original signature and two court cases, one relating to Shakespeare’s time on Silver Street, another when the Bard was accused of ‘Murder and Affray’ in Southwark by the corrupt Surrey Sherriff Sir William Gardiner, in 1596. Which ties the Bard directly to the theatrical entrepreneur Francis Langley, who built the Swan in Paris Gardens, and two still mysterious ladies, Dorothy Soeur and Anne Lee.

It remains a mystery though as to why the Wallaces, who grew increasingly paranoid about the British Establishment watching them, or filching their discoveries, and eventually returned to Wichita Falls in Texas to use their considerable investigative powers to unearth their own private oil well during the Texan boom, never revealed the existence of the sonnet, which is signed ws.

It’s form is classic Iambic Pentameter too and with the accepted Shakespearian rhyming structure, and though the page is now under lock and key, awaiting spectral analysis on the ink, its lack of punctuation and variable spelling points to its authenticity.  It is reproduced here with only some modern spellings for clarity:

when somer blushes with the dropping leaf
and all the naked worlde uncloaks its shame
when calvin winter stalks the earth beneath
mouthing ffalse psalters to the god of blame
i build cathedrals to a joyous eve
erect profanelye alters to her grace
and like a preacher make the worlde believe
her beauties constant and her truthe her face
for all the seasons halte within her thrall
as though she might hatche eges outside their nest
make spring of winter somer from the fall
or bring forth sweet milk from a virgin brest
so i on trees in forests prick her name
in falling adam loves to fall again

Critics of the find however point to the fact that the papers were also in the hands of the notorious nineteenth century scholar and forger John Payne Collier, who was so publically discredited and disgraced in The Athaneum Magazine. The Shakespeare story is in fact filled with frauds and hoaxes.  Scholars also point to textual oddities such as the American, or perhaps New World usage of the term Fall, for Autumn, of course punning on the Fall in the Biblical Garden of Eden, when Eve tempted Adam with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, bringing controversy and debate as to whether the term was even in currency at the period.

References to Calvinism and False doctrines have also raised a storm of new claims and counter claims that Shakespeare was in fact a secret Catholic, a theory, with the Reformation, resisted in Protestant England for four hundred years.  One of the most exciting aspects of the find though is a barely legible scrawl at the bottom of the page, which relates to a payment for a bundle of lute strings, of one shilling and a penny, and dates it to 1599, the year the wooden Globe Theatre was put up on Bankside.  The sonnet has increased interest and speculation though because of its strong sexual innuendo and references to pricking pages of love poetry on trees, in forests. Perhaps specific echoes of Orlando and Rosalind in the Forest of Arden, and of old Adam too, from one of Shakespeare’s best loved plays, As You Like It, also believed to have been written in 1599.







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Perhaps Petar Cvetkovic, the CEO of the mail and self-styled logistics company DX (their slogan is ‘delivered exactly’) might engage in one of those jolly TV programmes where management secretly mucks in on the shop floor and gets to know what it’s really like. More likely he has a managerial horror of becoming that much scorned White Van Man, from the way people are generally treated by his ‘management’, in their case a very inexact use of the word too.

Why should the fifty five year old executive even bother though? After all, according to Company Check, he holds the directorship of 16 listed companies and has resigned from the board of another 11. Over the last few months and weeks though Phoenix Ark Press have done it for him, with a man on the ground working out of their depot in Penrith. The result, Mr Cvetkovic, is disgust with the way people are exploited and the stupidity of the company ‘ethic’ too. It comes with freely delivered advice to the good British public never to go near DX, and, if you can, to order via Royal Mail, Parcel Force, DPD or another other rival. These days it’s only a little pause for thought, after all, and a discerning movement of the finger, in choosing retail Companies who use different operatives.

Except if you’re expecting one of Her Majesty’s great British passports through the post though, because apparently DX have the monopoly. They deliver other things too, Wiggle packages, Boo Hoo (hoo), White Stuff, Parcel Monkey, the monkeys, and so on, but one of their mainstays are our great British Passports. Quite a responsible and, in those bygone days when British business meant anything truly positive, if it ever did, even a thing commanding a tiny degree of respect? It certainly results in drivers being vetted for criminal records, credit issues, general dodgieness and so on.

Perfectly proper, as perhaps is some kind of penalty for not delivering your passport through the right letterbox. Except that there seems to be a standard and appalling 8 weeks wait to even work, with no concern or apology, and virtually no proper training either. While DX thinks it has the right to impose a £250 fine for every miss-posted letter of transit. With a three week wait for your first pay cheque too, doesn’t that strike you as a kind of bonded labour, that having a British passport was supposed to have abolished long since, and perhaps not entirely legal either? A three strikes and you’re out system would be far more reasonable, and less damaging to people’s real lives too. But maybe it’s only cynics or multi-company executives who fail to treat others like grown-ups, and start with the premise that everyone else is a crook, lazy or irresponsible, and not them at all.

Even such a fine might be justifiable, if the rewards given to their drivers matched the responsibility they are expected to carry. But, like the value of delivering your bicycle repair kit, or lovely White Stuff, so the drivers are paid 50p per passport, and 46p per mile. Apparently, that has not changed in at least 6 years. Now in rural areas that does present a margins problem, yet in that £72 or £82 charged by HM Passport office for processing our passports, what exactly does Her Majesty’s government set aside from you and us for p and p, to deliver perhaps hefty profits so exactly to DX owners and bosses? How many are issued per week too, and how much are our passports worth in the wider sense too? ‘Civis Britanicus Sum’? Fat chance. Any information request must go to them, and as for DX, they never answer any questions. Meanwhile, since 46p per mile is what any self-employed person is allowed to offset against tax in petrol, it might be worth HM Revenue investigating DX’s accounts to see if they are claiming on that too, to double their profits. We have not done so yet.

That level of pay though may prove fairly acceptable in such high density places as Manchester or London, despite one walk out there, but with no variance or weighting in what DX people get Nationwide, while in rural areas like Cumbria it amounts to pretty exact exploitation. Not least because drivers are expected to provide their own vehicles, Sat Navs, pay their fuel, while waiting to be paid, incur all the wear and tear costs of thrumming up and down the M6, or over impossible if beautifully scenic roads, so recently suffering floods and appalling and dangerous conditions. Laughably they have to pay £60 a month rental on those signing machines too, you have to fiddle with on your doorstep, so DX looks professional and serious.   So, on certain routes, the promise given of about £120 per day to invite drivers in turns out to be impossible to achieve for new drivers, even working 9 hours, and sometimes 12. That seems to be pretty exact misrepresentation too.

We calculated though, exactly or not, that some of their drivers are really touching the minimum wage, despite the responsibility of handling your vital passport, and being punished outrageously for getting it wrong too. With the pressures they’re putting on drivers, and the people running their shabby depots, arguably life threatening pressures in these recent weather conditions and famous Cumbrian flooding, it is far more likely they will get it wrong, and walk out as well. Meanwhile, the hard core of drivers sew up the easiest and most lucrative routes, (perhaps who can blame them considering such a culture of basic intimidation), and the real strain is put on the people coming through, not used to the topography, and often quickly walking out, as our bloke did.

What exactly will DX do about all this? It seems, exactly nothing at all. Precisely because the company was born out of the strikes by the Royal Mail through the seventies, before becoming privately owned in 2006, and with the rise of internet shopping too, that’s done such harm in many areas we may all be waking up to. While, in our experience, DX cares not a fig for the people it takes on so contemptuously as self-employees, and is perfectly willing to loose too. Allegedly, when one London depot tried to resist it by standing together, they sacked everyone and hired agency staff, until they could get more long term drivers. Noble British strike breaking, to ensure Mr Cvetkovic’s salary, and such vital services as passport delivery too? Not when the ‘culture’ of that company is so cynical and depressing, top to bottom. You would have thought prominent retail companies too have some small concern with what reputation is attached to the arrival of their Label in the post.

Then, in 2014, and with 3000 employees, DX floated itself on the AIM small company stock exchange. Which, considering informed commentators like Tom Whinifreth call that badly regulated market ‘the AIM casino’, makes you pause too. If you’re a concerned or even a ruthless shareholder then, you might prick up a wary ear to the opinion of the company from several on the inside. Or listen to one member of the public last week, after spending three hours on the phone complaining, and having looked up consumer comments he described as flooding onto the internet, to match the bad weather. Just pit that against stopping to ask directions of a smiling Royal Mail girl, in her smart red van, who beamed at the concern they show for their people, the perks they offer, the holiday incentives and the shares too.

Not vast money an hour, the Royal Mail, but actually it isn’t all about money, and goes with a real air of respect for lives, for work, safety and some job satisfaction. Take too the experience of a car blowing up near Kendal and borrowing water for the engine, from a bloke, it turns out, who had just packed in DX and now works for Parcel Force. From both the point of view of good business practice and treatment of people, eventually such a fly by night attitude to a workforce makes a business both distasteful and potentially unsustainable, as it tries to hold the market. Especially if prospective drivers get to know of the risks they are taking going near DX.

Their vaunted logistical business exactitude might be directed then to a little easy software investment and development, or time given to supporting warehouse managers, working a 70 hour week, or warning drivers of seriously blocked routes and so on. Instead it is clearly turned on to the thought that anyone in need of a job will do such work in the end, and so can run on just parcelling them off into the wild, blue yonder, and seeing who is desperate enough to sink or swim. In our humble, White Van Man opinion though, and for lots of reasons, the writing is certainly on their forcibly rented signature machines.

If Britain was really great too, perhaps Her Majesty Passport’s Office, that boasts a ‘Good Practice’ code, might use such a monopoly contract to inculcate some real culture again, top to bottom, by suggesting anyone handling our once World valued passports should be given a little more respect and value too. Indeed try to ensure it, by giving it back to Parcel Force, DPD, or The Royal Mail! Meanwhile the public too might spare a thought on the doorstep for people trying to cross tough terrain, to often unnumbered or unnamed houses, and give even a DX person a little smile and a real thanks, considering what they really earn. In the meantime, out of respect for the jobs DX drivers are forced to do, if not their culture, next time we’ll vote with our feet, especially now the car’s ruined, and we’re proudly Ex-Delivery, and get a passport in person. Then take a well-earned holiday! Exactly.


If you’re interested in any of the social and cultural issues in this article please share and reblog via Social Media and vote with your fingers.



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If you missed Tina C – Her Story on Radio 4 tonight 6.30-7pm rush back and listen. Is the bubblingly hysterical Christopher Green the new Chris Morris, the genius of his age behind the much attacked Brass Eye? Um, no idea, but thank God programmes like that are being broadcast mainstream and more strength to Mssss Green’s brilliant elbow. Go on, listen…

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Phoenix Ark's Blog

Published work on Edmund Shakespeare, London and Southwark, back on July 1st 2012, was too long, so it has been reworked into short storytelling chapters, the first of which starts today. There are still a few errors, or slight mistakes to be checked back with our original notebooks, though there are very definitive elements to come too. It is a thrilling adventure in Shakespeare and local history. The chapters will become part of the project Shakespeare’s Brother, posted above. Readers are very much encouraged to write in with corrections, or to point out glaring errors.

SHAKESPEARE’S BROTHER – The biography of a borough and an unrecorded life

by David Clement-Davies

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,

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I blogged last week on the founding in 1588 of the little Alms House run by Saviour’s Church, Cure’s College, on Maid Lane in Southwark, where the Rose, Globe and finally Hope theatres stood, by the Stewes and the river. Parish Gardens, that centre of theatre, brothels and bear-baiting, was nicknamed ‘The Bear College”. I also said that the draconian rules for those 16 local poor folk, men and women, laid down by that saddler to Queen Elizabeth, Thomas Cure, were a forewarning of the dreaded Workhouses to come, that Dickens so pilloried in novels like Oliver Twist. I’m certainly convinced that the shape of modern Capitalism and many of the woes we face today were born in Tudor London. In that privatisation of Church land called The Reformation, but most especially in the explosion of Private enterprise from the walled City, that turned the old English idea of Empire, lost in France, into an Empire of trade around the World. So the East India Company was founded in the same year the little wooden Globe theatre went up, 1599, and in 1605, I think, the Virginia Bay Companies too, that led the expansion in the Americas and the race, especially with the Dutch, for brave new worlds. The East India Company would of course define British power and Foreign Policy for Centuries, owning private armies and putting up their first little fort in Madras in 1607, the year Shakespeare’s brother Edmund died and was buried in Southwark. That same year there is a record of Hamlet being performed on board an East Indian ship, The Red Dragon, off the coast of Sierra Leone. It was formerly a warship called The Spirit of Malice and is mentioned in AL Rowse’s book on the astrologer Simon Foreman. The echoes of such a dynamic time are all over Shakespeare, of course in The Tempest, but also in Falstaff’s descriptions of himself in The Merry Wives of Windsor, in terms of Continents and Countries. Then there is that strange, almost unintelligible dedication on the cover of the sonnets about ‘well wishing adventurers’ setting forth. Those vital player’s patrons The Herbert brothers were of course major share holders in those City Companies, as the idea of sharers and private enterprise is also reflected in Shakespeare’s own theatrical Company, whose leading members had fingers in several little business pies in London, like groceries and sea-coal. In 1612 the first ‘Free Standing Lotterie’ was launched in the city too, to fund New World endeavours, and from common purses too, which all 13 original American colonies would soon take up. I’ve said before they were remarkably early origins then to that so-called ‘American Dream’ (and Shakespeare is filled with dreaming) born in London and the City. It was of course all about trade but also private banking and ownership, along with the massively lucrative beer trade, that in terms of private wealth remains true to this day.

Meanwhile, although Elizabethan ‘social security’ nets were remarkably fragile, they were there, in Parish organisation, although with the often hypocritical and allied hands of Church and State control. Take the unconsecrated graves of prostitutes and the poor at ‘Crossbones’ in Southwark. While there is that telling note in one of the St Saviour’s Records, of a payment ‘to send a woman out of the parish’, as Wards tried to deal with the growing issue of the Urban Poor in London and to fob it off on neighbouring parishes. In the meantime much of the condition South of the River grew into a true nightmare, with places like the Marshalsea Prison on Long Southwark, but also those Liberties themselves, areas of independent jurisdiction, that also spawned Crime, prostitution and slums like ‘The Rookeries’, where Daniel Defoe sets much of Moll Flanders. Despite all our worries then about Banking scandals today and the inequality of rules and playing fields, it was probably only the changing of the laws of debt in the 19th Century that saw true social reform. It is also true that the one old photo I have seen of Cure’s College, by the time it had developed into a stone structure by the early 19th Century, is very forbidding indeed.

Yet I got a fascinating insight into modern Alms Houses the other day when I helped a friend move rooms at the oldest Alms House in England, in Winchester, at The Hospital St. Cross and The Order of Noble Poverty. Of course the links with Winchester and Southwark were very strong indeed. It is very doubtful that poverty was ever considered especially noble in England, outside the beliefs and Orders of sections of the Church, but it is a charming and very historic place, rather like an Oxford College, and dominated by a huge Norman stone Church. It boasts the title of the oldest charitable institution in England. Incidentally scenes from the brilliant Wolf Hall, now running on the BBC, were shot here. It’s a pity I didn’t get to bump into Mark Rylance then and ask such a fantastic actor and former Artistic Director at the modern Globe why he believes the silly and impossible theory that Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford. It just happens to be that the beneficiaries at St Cross today are all men, and refer to one another as ‘Brothers’, while at Cure’s College there were certainly men, women and children too. You do not have to be of any Religion, I believe, and Cure’s founding document specifically laid down that members had to be of a Protestant faith, though the Brothers today are required to attend Matins in the Church in their red robes. But in return they have charming rooms, peace and quiet, friendship and excellent and highly subsidised lunches too. They are not, as the poor of Cure’s College certainly were, required to work for their bed and board. I didn’t see around the whole place, like The 100’s Hall where a hundred locals were fed regularly, and my dog Rascal upset the ordered tranquility a little when we wandered into the Garden, but that and other Alms Houses in Winchester and around England are a testament to an ancient and noble tradition.

David Clement-Davies February 2nd 2015

For writers in the Sixteenth Century it was hard to survive, books and plays often supported by private donations. We seem to have returned to that time, in some ways, so please realise that the research on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark represents two years of unpaid work.  If you enjoy these blogs then and can afford to support Phoenix Ark Press, please donate below.  Many thanks.


The photo shows the main Courtyard of St Cross,medieval but edged by an original Tudor balcony.

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