Category Archives: London

KING LEAR – REVIEW

Nancy Meckler’s quirky production of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy at The Globe somehow fails to reach the heights of Kevin Mcnally’s deeply moving and highly original portrayal of King Lear. In a lovely, lucid and rich performance, that at times pierces to the deep heart of such a mighty spirit, wrestling with both the self-imposed overthrow of his kingdom and his own mind, in an apparent search for true love. Reflecting, beyond the savagery and ambition of his bad daughters and the world out there, the ultimate inevitability of impotent old age and death.

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Nowadays though perhaps you have to reach for the program to get to the twin pillars of whatever the supporting architecture is, and here it’s essays on ‘comedy’ and ‘homelessness’. Without droning on about the problems of messages swamping real drama, like that awful production of a Tale of Two Cities at Regent’s Park Open Air, here the same concerns are sounded, but to far better effect. With a troupe of vagrants, who might be actors capable of being Kings or Desperate Men, repossessing a derelict property, swathed in canvas cladding and Keep-Out signs and littered with warehouse parcel cages, where a lot of the most gruesome bits are enacted, though in fact not gruesomely enough. Because Lear is a play about being made to see the horror, inside and out.

I take slight issue with the fact that they then put on a kind of gypsy play, so justifying Loren O’Dair’s mumming, violin-playing Fool and the final masque-dance, though not at all on the grounds that you shouldn’t make Shakespeare contemporary, or even change the text. But because the writer who writers trust above all knew his stuff and when he wanted something to be a ‘play within a play’, like that vital Mouse Trap in Hamlet, he put it in for a reason. Otherwise it’s a given that we’re in a theatre and, above all at the wonderful Globe, in that ‘Wooden O’.

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Setting that aside, the reason it works better is because it reminds us, unlike Two Cities, that ‘migrants’ or the homeless are real human beings, not just yobbish victims, or some easy label either, and capable of squatting, repossessing, threatening or having a good party too. That gives some energy to what ensues, in a play that so wrestled with the terrible social realities of its time and can be astonishingly revolutionary. Phoenix Ark Press has long been writing that the divides of today might be reaching back to the Sixteenth century.

In fact, with the triumph of Much Ado About Mariachi (see review below), the Globe should be reinforced – as it is being – as the stage for actors working in a vital Shakespearean ensemble tradition and interacting with the groundlings. Just as the cast bustle on stage before the audience have barely sat down, or stood up, and exit in similar fashion. The problem is, if you’re going with that, this production does not make nearly enough use of such a space. Which is why I rather woke up when Joshua James’ at times excellent semi-academic Edgar comes into the cage in the pit and smears himself with excrement. It is true at the proscenium level too, where Much Ado became a dance of brilliant invention. But this seems rather flat and oddly stuck behind the fourth wall, I think actually raised, Trump-like, by making something too politically messagy.

Meanwhile to that essay on comedy. Any Stand-Up will tell you biting comedy is the other side of tragedy, that the blackest humour takes you to the Dover cliff edge, and Lear is ripe with it. Perhaps so going for comedy is what frees the cast and Mcnally initially, and in being allowed to be actors too, and makes his Lear so very striking and human. Accessible is the word, in such contrast to Anthony Sher’s at the RSC. In fact you are allowed to like Lear from the start, though perhaps a little too much. But his re-emergence with flowers in his Citizen Smith beret and reencounter with Anjana Vasan’s very good Cordelia are superb.

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The problem is that sometimes the search for the gag becomes irritating. Just as you get why the L’Ecole Jaques Lecoq trained O’Dair is a suitably haunted Pierrot figure, you wonder why a character that is such an essential part of Lear’s and the play’s entire psyche, seems so absent. The biggest case in point though is Edgar with Burt Caesar’s blind Gloucester at the Dover cliff of transformation, throwing away some of the lines for the gag, as if he’s just making it up in improv.

In fact that authoritative flow of language and poetic vision is so much what the entire play is about, held in the longer soliloquies, especially if you’re wanting to justify the theatre itself as almost Sacred Space, revealed by stripping off the cladding. It is a vital rebalancing of both Lear’s and Gloucester un-anchored minds and imaginations, their moral compasses too, and so ours, to rediscover a common humanity and purpose, if it can in. So creating a kind of miracle of hope and balance, in the face of that running metaphor of seeing and blinding, of those inner and outer worlds. There is very much the sense of secular pilgrimage in that act, as there is in the semi-Christian role of Kent, that can’t be got at just by kissing a crucifix, although Saskia Reeves as Kent is generally excellent.

So then the difficulties with this Lear must really rest with the director Nancy Meckler not grasping harder for the intrinsic wholism of the great play, inside its own poetry and consciousness, and how all the characters so ‘talk’ to each other. Lear’s reference to faux-mad Edgar as his Athenian and Philosopher, for instance, are not just quips, but because in the context of a world so turned-upside-down, Poor Tom’s veiled wisdom and pretend madness really does serve that purpose. If you interrupt that internal dialogue of ideas you also interrupt the actor’s ability to connect with each other, as they do in later scenes, like the magnificent confrontation between Goneril and Thomas Padden’s fine Albany.

In that, perhaps the director forgets you can be over democratic too, especially if you need Shakespeare as ultimate authority, in neglecting Hamlet’s injunction to scruffy, focus pulling actors in general to ‘speak the words as I set them down’. Namely as Shakespeare sets them down. The point about that Wooden O, at the very inception of modern theatre, and a new defining of the English language too, is that to Shakespeare the vowels of text and place were almost synonymous and in his case you should always trust the writer’s pillars of wisdom, first through the page then onto the stage.

Just as, while the ‘Stomp’ style use of drums to generate both the storm and war has some effect, it could be done with even more commitment, to get a real street beat and thrill the audience. But more importantly it somehow pushes out that other vital element of Lear – Nature – healing regenerator, or red in tooth and claw. “Thou Nature art my Goddess”. Odd then that for a play they so underline is about being dispossessed, I could not really feel the cold, the wet and really the storm either, even partially in the open air. Which physically and metaphorically echoes the blasted heath Lear’s mind threatens to become, one that is exactly that for so many of the homeless. It is feeling those things, inside and out, for imagination is also how we see the world, yet with such a philosophical maelstrom at work too, that surely makes you reconnect with the plight of migrants and the homeless, after all out in the real weather, and the whole of tricky humanity too. Shakespeare above all was wary of being didactic then and concerned with the magic he wrought on his audience inside the theatre.

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Again, on the nature theme, Cordelia is also a semi mystical and redemptive Nature figure and that is not directed enough. Although, since I think Shakespeare must have nearly touched madness himself, because King Lear so brilliantly explores the agonizing rupture that can occur in the human psyche when the powerful masculine is separated from the truly honest feminine, both potentially inside all of us, some of the supporting relationships are very well played. Emily Bruni is particularly good as Goneril, especially discovering a seething sexuality in Edmund’s vital manhood, and Ralph David’s Edmund is suitably vigorous and in charge of his destiny, for a while. So though, perhaps a laurel must be given back to Nancy Meckler’s making Kent female and having Pierrot take off the Fool’s cap to reveal a vanishing woman too. Perhaps the performances will coalesce more to reach for what must support those two central men though, the King and Gloucester, and which, with Mcnally in the hot seat, might have made this a great Lear.

David Clement-Davies went to see King Lear courtesy of the Globe Theatre. The production runs until October 14.   For tickets  Click Here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MICHELLE TERRY COMES TO THE GLOBE, AMID THE SILENT TEMPEST!

Well, when Press people suddenly disappear, and there has been long standing controversy about the resignation of the Globe’s Artistic Director Emma Rice too, who goes to The Old Vic, even coming fresh to the subject you instantly start to pick up little intimations of controversy and discontent, perhaps even a tempest. That and some kind of regime change may settle with yesterday’s announcement of the new artistic director at The Globe, Michelle Terry.

I only hope that Emma Rice’s fight with a very silent Board, supposedly over issues of poor lighting and sound, though Rice has spoken out over how the Board did not respect her, and a transitional relationship between the two directors lasting into 2018, will be made less painful by the new triumph of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Matthew Dunster.  It was Rice who jumped at the chance to commission this ‘Mexican’ version of the play, and in it all her and Dunster’s best instincts have been vindicated.

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It perhaps throws light on what has been going on behind the scenes at the Globe too, in that unusually Terry has mighty little experience of directing, although is both an actress and a writer.  Something Dunster, by the way, is clearly not, in his current version of Dickens, although we have forgiven him because of Much Ado. Perhaps then, now the Globe has become a worthy academic institution and study source, and a popular destination for tourists too, and you wonder how much a silent Board cleave to such things, since worthies so often know so little about living theatre, there is a clearer line in reaching back to the writer-player traditions of Shakespeare’s day, in an avowed desire to catch the spirit of the place. As Mark Rylance so famously and successfully did at the Globe’s inception.

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However, for now things are on hold because neither directors are as yet giving interviews on the subject. Clearly a sensitive moment, so watch this space. With Terry wanting to find her head the transition may have its stormy moments too, but in this Summer of Love Season, perhaps not. But while being warmly welcomed to the Globe, Michelle Terry should certainly  soak up the glorious vibe of Rice’s Much Ado About Nothing, because that’s the kind of theatre The Globe should revel in.

David Clement Davies reviews Much Ado below.  The images are public domain photos of Michelle Terry, new Globe Artistic Director and her predecessor Emma Rice

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A LITTLE CHAT WITH MATTHEW DUNSTER AND ONE UP FOR THE GLOBE

Well, Matthew Dunster redeemed himself for me last night, after his brutalization of Dickens at Regent’s Park Open Air, with his triumphant direction of Much Ado About Nothing at The Globe.  So, after a little Press party that should put the scruffs at lazy Jo Allan PR, representing the Open Air Theatre, to shame, I was lucky to collar him over his glass of red, after the show.

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Remarkably un-phased by the negative reviews of a Tale of Two Cities, which he claims he never reads anyhow, he talked about the peculiar and rather unnatural pressure point of any Press night and how he had just taken himself out to dinner to avoid the whole grizzly business.  How much too he enjoys the real stuff of theatre, namely rehearsals with both casts. At which point I pompously reminded him that it’s surely about the audiences too, though heaven forbid the critics, certainly a link broken for me in his adaptation of Dickens.

Well, he did say how many shows he was doing back to back, and I didn’t want to be the downer, as he grinned talking about how he and the composer James Maloney had swanned off to Mexico to find inspiration for Much Ado and even made it to Durango.  Not a bad life, but if they had a fun time, and remember Shakespeare’s intimate link with musicians, it breathes throughout his marvellous production. As it says in the programme, and Dunster relayed again, it was an image of Mexican women in Edwardian dresses, but wearing cartridge belts, that gave him a sudden vision of his very off the wall Much Ado, with a subtle attack on Trump’s wall too.

He’s fond of class war as well, so a fitting sally into to the world of Pancho Villa’s revolutionaries. But his remark in the programme is also right, namely that this is no bolt-on message, but a very carefully thought out frame, done with superb designs as well, that serves Shakespeare’s play, rather than the other way around.  So cheers, Mr Dunster, and can I have a job?!

David Clement-Davies and companion were hosted wonderfully by the Globe, and must simply get over Jo Allan PR!

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JO AllAN PR, REGENT’S PARK OPEN AIR AND WHY THEATRES START TO HANG THEMSELVES!

If the terrible production of a Tale of Two Cities is anything to go by (review below), something is wrong at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.   My own personal experience of it was not just having to sit through that busy evening though, unpaid, but my handling by the company’s so-called Public Relations people, Jo Allan PR.

Company of A Tale of Two Cities (2). Photo Johan Persson

At first I called the Box Office to try and get Press Tickets, to be given an email by a very helpful member of staff that simply didn’t work.  Then I was quickly fobbed off by Jo Allen PR over breazy reasons that successful productions don’t merit wide ranging Press Tickets, or that allocations were already full.  Except, after pressing, I heard a second Press Evening had suddenly been arranged for A Tale of Two Cities. I now realise it was probably because of a mounting sense of nerves about the show itself, that has been generally slated and in The Telegraph was recently called a clash of two egos, that of the writer Matthew Dunster and the Director Timothy Sheader. I wonder how many egos are at war.

I’m now furious though at further sloppy treatment, as sloppy as that production, first being put on the waiting list for Oliver Twist, but so rudely to hear nothing at all, then having to ask twice for Production photos. I seriously wonder if the reasons for it are deeply related in the culture of the place. Is it the great successes that the theatre has had in recent years, for the magical venue itself, and for Musical productions that have proved great commercial triumphs, that is making them generally so blasé? Or that violent commercialism everywhere is letting them ignore the spirit and work of serious writers and bloggers? To the point where only the voices of the major papers, and those Stars they give, merits proper PR handling, because everything is about platforms. Having worked in box offices too I know how oddly tickets and comps can be allocated.

Both the Globe and the RSC, and I have had little arguments with the RSC, say consistently how that kind of coverage and interest are important to them.  They usually prove it too, although of course they make necessary equations about the depth of the coverage, its commercial value and so on.  Jo Allan PR seems not remotely interested though in the quality of the reviews here, their seriousness, or their wider cultural value either, let alone showing any modicum of general courtesy.  Actually in PR.

I am not only indignant as a highly published and prize winning author, a journalist and also a blogger at the financially very foolish Phoenix Ark Press, which seeks and makes no profits at all. But because I must admit to a vaguely proprietorial interest in the Open Air theatre too, having aeons ago been House Manager there for two years, after training as an actor myself.  So what makes my blood boil, in being so casually dismissed by the Jo Allan PR girl, who I doubt has ever had the commitment to the Arts I’ve shown, in everything I have done, let alone swept the tiers and screwed in the bloody chairs where ‘her’ audience now put their bums on seats, is that they simply no longer care and so make only commercial equations.

Of course they must make money, of course the Arts are difficult and always underfunded too. But when theatres throw it all up for profit alone, or obvious coverage, then a company starts to lose its soul.  Because actually, and precisely what is wrong with the assumptions and easy politics in A Tale of Two Cities, it is not all just about money, or must not be, but the quality of thought, art, acting, interest and above all writing surrounding it all.  That’s what gives the Arts connection with an audience or indeed critics who can be as passionately hungry, engaged, or disappointed as they are.  Regent’s Park might well pause this season then to evaluate precisely what it is doing, what its wider values are too, or whether such PR people also deserve a little taste of the guillotine, or the rope. Perhaps I should go back and tell them!

David Clement-Davies is not invited to any other productions at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, so frankly won’t be going. The photo shows the cast on stage hanging themselves.

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A FAIL OF TWO CITIES – REVIEW

It’s heart may be in the best of places, but it’s only that magical Open Air setting that just about saves Matthew Dunster’s adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities from being the worst of times.  Three huge revolving blue cargo containers set the alienating modern scene in Regent’s Park, then hit you over the head with the message that those 18th Century emigreés from France’s Revolutionary Terror are now today’s tragic migrants on the borders of Brexit Britain, warning us of blood.

Claire-Louise Cordwell as Mdm Defarge. Photo Johan Persson

Meanwhile the implication that we are all on the unstoppable Super Tanker of the Nasty Rich is symbolised by the figure of Monseigneur, dressed like Elton John, riding the metal juggernaut of capitalist brutality through Paris, then and now, mowing down the peasants, so perhaps we’re all in this together. Not me, I’m afraid.  Call me an old bourgeois, and perhaps it was the sloppy treatment of a much-loved classic, but bring back Shakespeare, apparently now banished from those leafy groves forever.

With the play and programme notes throwing in anything from Donald Trump to Grenfell Tower to be relevant, when the story is so obviously relevant, we are served not with a real and potentially smouldering drama, but modulated in its scenes, moods and social levels, so allowing for various kinds of empathy and the grand build to that eventually thundering Dickensian social rhetoric. Instead we get a hefty kit pack of modern tricks, poor improvisation and lazy messaging, highlighted by images cast on two pointless screens referencing Teresa May, Trump, or weirdly the chariot race in Ben Hur. The show may have heart, but has had its head guillotined from the start, like the rubbery decapitation that signals the horror.

Nicholas Khan as Monseigneur. Photo Johan Persson

The production is as sloppy as its political assumptions too, for just as it is right and very timely to highlight traditions of British tolerance and legal protection, in a country once a proud refuge of the refugee, it also seems irresponsible to assert that there is some easy equation between The Terror that succeeded the French Revolution and religiously motivated Fundamentalist terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.  Or perhaps we need a  play truly dealing with Grenfell Tower, burning in London’s richest Borough, that does explore the relationship between poverty and the failure of social, religious and ideological integration and also made the Tower a centre of Muslim immigrants.

A Tale of Two Cities becomes more accessible in the second half,  and there is no doubt crusading Dickens could be a man to sound the crises of the hour. But in an exhausting splurge of ensemble acting, with ponderous chapter announcements to bring needed narration, and give supposed dramatic impact too, that just become irritating, I was left feeling how much this falls down in comparison to the RSC’s famous, astonishing production of Nicholas Nickleby, so it can be done well.

There actors were allowed to breathe, explore and bring to life the very texture of a rich Dickensian novel, his marvellous characters and language too, lost here in easy modern effings and blindings  and meagre narration.  The magical changing of clothes is the actors’ very art, which also involves the changing of class and status, of place as well, that tests or reveals their ultimate humanity. Precisely the point of a tale of two cities.  Here the over small cast are encouraged mostly to be the threatening mob, or the tragic and angry container victims, which is only one element of that story and itself can alienate. 

This has no subtlety then, and no real modulation of human experience either. Where too in Fly Davis’ designs are those Capitals of degradation but splendour as well, London and Paris, that  also created the comforts, ideals and intimacies of those essentially middle class heroes, the Manettes, but also attracted and attract migrants, political and economic, in the first place?

Nicholas Karimi as Sydney Carton. Photo Johan Persson

So to the conscious voiding of Dickens’ famous identity trope,  the physical similarity between Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay, née Evremonde, that reviled name that suggests somewhere the world is ever thus, so securing Darnay’s release from court in England, on false charges of espionage. That was the political threat and paranoia here at the time. With a black and white actor, Jude Osuwu and Nicholas Karimi, who, though both good, look nothing like each other, it certainly serves the purpose of ensemble acting and insisting we are all human beings under the skin. The problem is it voids Dickens’ interest in the swings of fate, in character and in clever plotting, that help him describe the injustices and vagaries of real life, while ringing the human heart-strings.

In not even attempting to be convincing, or make it important though, suspending far too much disbelief, firstly it gives absolutely no chance for dramatic tension later. But so it comes to reflect the writer’s general laziness and lack of concern for presenting truly realistic and moving human relationships, in a deepening play that might make us really love and care about the fate of the characters. The encounter between Carton and Lucy Manette, for instance, Mariéme Diouf too wooden or just not given the script to capture Lucy Manette’s enormous courage and enduring loyalty for her father, just doesn’t earn its spurs. So it fails to persuade us of Carton’s redeeming love for Lucy, vulnerable in her fainting but no easy victim, and through her Darnay too, especially a love that could make the ultimate sacrifice for both of them.  Karimi’s performance is the best thing in the play, but if you are making points why not have a black look-alike play Sydney Carton instead?  As my companion said though, in the general meleé, if he had not known the story, he doubted he would have had a clue what was going on.

As importantly though, ignoring what happens in court and why, testing our credulity over it, voids one of Dickens’ novelistic obsessions, and an English obsession too, the imperfect but also necessary processes of Law, founded in vital aspects of fact and proof, of presumed innocence too, so dismantled to allow for the mechanism of The Terror in the first place. A process that has been true of Revolutions from Robespierre to Stalin and Pol Pot. Carton himself is after all a brilliant but disillusioned barrister, and it is not just the rage of the mob that threatens the characters, but malign human agency and lies in the figure of the paid double-agent Barsad pointing the finger. Just why that trick of identity – and eye-witness accusations are notoriously unreliable in Law – becomes so important.

Company of A Tale of Two Cities (1). Photo Johan Persson (1)

Moments are good, like the weary, tragic procession of immigrants on the revolve, falling by the wayside, or trying to find some kind of home. The final execution denouement just about works too and almost touches Dickens’ always eloquent humanity. Claire-Louise Cordwell, knitting those ultimately arbitrary and bloody revenges in Dickens’ brilliantly captured historical symbol, seen with a jourbalist’s eye, is a good actress,  though she doesn’t make Madame Defarge nearly nasty enough.  Patrick Driver is subtle as Dr Manet and works hard, Kervork Malikyan stands out as the loyal lawyer Lorry and Nicholas Khan makes an amusingly vile Monseigneur, but is underused. For a moment Sean Kernow’s angry description of a little girl’s death touches the agony of real poverty and pain that migrants and others experience here and around a world where sadly there are a lot nastier things out there than cargo containers.  

But over all, especially in a Brexit torn country that seems as confused as this production, in a world of the doubling inequalities of Super Capitalism since 2008, and with economists saying Brexit may not only make us irrelevant on a world stage but, by impoverishing, raise fear and mistreatment of immigrants further, frustrations not with the message but with the art make me misquote Wordsworth on Milton – “Dickens, wouldst thou were living at this hour, England has need of thee.” 

David Clement-Davies went courtesy of Regents Park Open Air Theatre. Timothy Sheader’s production of A Tale of Two Cities runs until August 5th.  For tickets Click Here

 

 

 

 

 

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MEETING IVANA TRUMP

I met Ivana Trump once, it was in a little London art gallery, I think Cork Street, and remember well wondering about this botoxed, attractive, semi glamorous Eastern European woman and how celebrity, and this was long before Trump ever got anywhere near the most powerful office in the World, The President of The US of A, affects us all.  I was affected, just because this was Ivana, some kind of apprentice in Trump’s Celebrity life journey, or once the ultimate power couple, and wonder now how her ex husband’s new position will draw others out of the woodwork.  With new revelations about Trump’s private life I suspect they will be coming thick and fast, whether Monica Lewinsky made a fortune out of the Bill Clinton business or not, and for one take on that you should read Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Such is life.

Actually though it wasn’t Ivana I remember most from the evening, she seemed a bit sad and was an ex, but an extraordinary guy who kept announcing he was a hypochondriac. Obviously having been in extensive therapy, part of the cure was the revelation, the speaking it, and though I smiled encouragingly, I was not entirely sure what normality really is, when, after cheap wine and swift tasties had been snacked, art sort of looked at and the coats ordered, he produced a huge sports bag and opening it revealed a forest of drugs, pills, hypodermics and tubes, that sort of reassured him on his way.  I am not being nasty to the hypochondriac, though life can be cruel, if I was not sure I had made it to the most exclusive opening, but now The Donald is in charge, I wonder who needs going into therapy the most! Come on The Don, Corleone or not, tell us the truth, you’re insane and so is the rest of the world, but who’s providing the cure?

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MUCH ADO ABOUT THE LOVELY RSC

I must confess to a dastardly crime against the Theatre, or myself, in not staying for the second half of Loves Labours Lost at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Perhaps it was the difficulty of the play, or too much slapstick, the industrial scale milking of comic moments, or some of the more bizarre accents too, that turns John Hodkinson’s Don Amardo into a mixture of Shylock and Manuel from Fawlty Towers. It all got rather exhausting then, as did the constant word games and rhyming couplets, though I think it was wanting to gas with an old friend over a drink that really did it. There was a moment of hesitation too when, right at the end of the first half, Berowne erupts into a speech of true Shakespearian power and poetry, presaging deeper things to come, but the friend and the drink won out, no matter how terrifying the price of a Brandy Alexander has become in Central London.

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The regret came seeing the deliciously exuberant and utterly charming production of Much Ado About Nothing the next night, so also getting a clearer picture of why director Christopher Luscombe both twins them and sets the plays pre and post First World war.   A deeper understanding was only aided by sitting next to the actor Andy Wincott, who plays Adam Macy in the Archers, and no less than Tara King from the Avengers, charming Linda Thorson, whose eyes are as beautiful and foxy as ever, the cause of many adolescent labourings of lust, and who was so effusive about Love’s Labours Lost, darling, she could have walked straight into the magical cast. Linda convinced me I had missed a true theatrical moment though when all that unnatural idealism falters, though the passion is not spent but so rudely interrupted, both by the women banishing the men in the play and here by the horror of a World War, beyond the ceaseless war of the sexes. Then American novelist Phillip Roth is convinced that the reason we still respond to myths like the Iliad and Odyssey, is that the fight for Woman really lies at the bottom of all conflict and all Art.  Well, obviously life itself.

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As for theatrics, Much Ado About Nothing is very stagy too, yet what indeed is a far richer and more complex play, given added depth of frame by the characters now returning from the Hell of Passchendaele, and the rest, quickly evoked by the stage presence of metal hospital beds and echoes of The Shooting Party, became a tour de force. Here then what was for me far too Norman Wisdom in Nick Haverson’s Costard in Loves Labours, grows into a marvellously rich and wounded Dogsberry, perhaps Shell-Shocked, who had the audience both howling and squirming with genuine human pity. Though not as painful, in the tremendous all singing and dancing sets, as the shaming and apparent death of pretty Hero in the highly dramatic wedding scene. Much Ado is potentially far darker and more cynical than this version, especially in the Iago-esque malevolence of Don John, maybe not so inexplicable in motive considering what had just happened in this time frame, and the venom that lies only just below the Social surface, but that is kept firmly under control and the show fizzes. Steven Pacey is tremendous both as Donnish Holofernes and especially Leonato and though Beatrice and Benedict are very well matched, Edward Bennet’s lovely Benedict steals the laurels, in scenes that must have been a joy to improvise in rehearsal and brought some delightful audience interaction too, punters so love.

The reason for twinning them at all is the echoes the plays share and the theory that Much Ado is in fact the lost Loves Labours Won, so perhaps a sequel, mentioned by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia, published in 1597, that book that also sounded the murder of Christopher Marlowe. To me the jury is very much out on that, probably still wanting to believe that the lost ‘Won’, like that vanished version of Don Quixote, Cardenio, is still out there somewhere. Yet finding a line through both is convincing and certainly seems to energise the actors in this inspiring ensemble cast.

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Meanwhile a very plausible RSC Land has been achieved by the Downtown Abbey style set, reflecting the real and very beautiful Charlcotte Manor in Stratford, the home of the Elizabethan grandee Sir Thomas Lucy. That could lead you wandering off down the fustian halls of Scholarship itself, if to an entirely different play, The Merry Wives of Windsor. Since that manor where legend has it Shakespeare was hounded for poaching deer and had to flee for his life, may find its way into the play’s references to lice, a pun on the ‘Luces’ of the Lucy crest. It is also the scene where Justice Shallow first appeared, and Shakespeare was probably taking a swipe at the London Sherriff and obvious crook, Sir William Gardner, relation of Mary Tudor’s Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, who had Shakespeare and others up in late 1596 on charges of Murder and Affray. All more or less convincing speculation in what is still a pretty threadbare biographical patchwork of Shakespeare’s life, swamped by the imaginative astonishment of the plays and his mind. But the firm grounding does no harm at all, though must raise costs over the Elizabethan chimney pots. Then it is an extremely generous production, in the lovely setting of the Theatre Royal (if I still think the RSC needs a London home), much aided by Nigel Hess’s specially commissioned score, that gives it a touch of the Musical, the verve of the cast and, since Donald Trump is about to redecorate The White House in Gold, the post fin de siècle sense that we might all be entering very interesting and ugly times indeed.

The photos show Costard and Don Armado, Beatrice and Benedict and the inspiring ensemble cast in the RSC and Chichester Festival’s twinned productions of Loves Labours Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, currently running in London at The Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Tickets by kind courtesy of the RSC.

 

 

 

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THE SHAKESPEARE BLOG – THE MYSTERY AND MAGIC OF RESEARCH

Shakespeare-Testament

An American friend has just asked, in this very free form Shakespeare and London blog, what it is like doing the research itself, in the backrooms and the stacks of great libraries?  A worthy digression, I think, about real life in London, past and present, and the hunt for Edmund Shakespeare or his brother.  Although I first heard about Edmund’s tombstone in St Saviour’s church from a schoolteacher in a pub up in Clapham, and had already started a pretty bogus novel, perhaps that search really began in earnest when I heard a London lecture by Professor Alan Nelson from Berkley University, talking to a small audience in that church about the St Saviours Token Books. Then another to his theatre students down in the lecture hall at the modern Globe reconstruction, explaining how to use the main resources – the London Metropolitan and the National Archives. So talking of the detective work around wills especially, mostly held in the National Archives, among all those pipe rolls and government documents, but also giving that name of the place Edmund Shakespeare was in 1607, the Vine Tavern on Maid Lane in Southwark.   I should say that from start to finish in that search though I have found the academics mostly pretty uncooperative, and of course there is a competition that surrounds everything to do with Shakespeare.  Alan Nelson is doing his own biography of the bard for the 2016 anniversary, but I do think he might have been more forthcoming, as might others, especially James Shapiro’s UK publishers.  Perhaps anyone on the hunt for the bard succumbs to that twinge of paranoia or jealousy that infected that American couple, the Wallaces, who unearthed the Mountjoy Court case early last century and the Silver Street story, but came to believe the British Establishment were spying on them and trying to steal their work.  To add a semi psychic twinge to the Wallace’s peculiar talents, perhaps needed in the imagining of any past, they returned to Texas during the oil rush determined to strike black gold and did exactly that.

But so I set off, in my little Gold Peugeot, to the main centre of the work done, the London Metropolitan Archive in Clerkenwell.   Like every area in London proper, visiting that much changed part of the city of course has its own place in the jigsaw, because scrubby and little-streeted Clerkenwell, with its rough market and emergent cappuccino shops, its modern Turkish immigrants or its Roumanian dominated strip bar, was in Shakespeare’s day the Clerk’s Well, where clerks, scribes and limners settled and Dutch and Flemish immigrants probably ended up in brothels too. There were other major wells, like The Bridewell, Hanwell and so on. Those limners later morphed into the printers and booksellers who especially congregated around St Paul’s Cathedral and Paternoster Row, and modern St Paul’s, with Wren’s proud dome, as opposed to the wood steepled church, of course still looms up now and then among the constuctions.  The idea of wells though, in a City once famous for its clean and pure springs, as Peter Ackroyd says, became as redolent in my head as the 212 parish churches that defined both the development of London and the creation of Reformation records too, or as important as the river itself. So the topography of the place became vital, passing streets like Bowling Green Alley, among so many in London echoing that popular sport, once played out in open fields, as eagerly as archers practiced at Newington Butts, or falconers hunted on the Morefields .  Like visiting the still working pub on the corner of Cowross and Turnmill Streets, near to Smithfield market, which was once George Wilkin’s brothel tavern, where the young Mary Mountjoy stayed with her lover Stephen Bellot.  That would have been in a near rural district outside the now vanished City wall and Smithfield was both a market and a place of popular burnings. Then there is that original remnant of a wattle and daub Elizabethan tenement building, through the arch approaching the very ancient St Bartholemew’s Church, just down the road, that once also had a spittal, or hospital.

Where I was coming from became just as important too, living in Lambeth, in a little flat on Gilbert Road in Kennington, that just happened to have the name of another of Shakespeare’s brother’s – Gilbert. Richard was the other. Kennington, with it’s Dog House pub, probably on the site of one of the old dog houses that surrounded London, once on lands of The Black Prince and where Sir John Fastolf, who fought at Agincourt and that echo of Jack Falstaff, owned land as well as a tavern, the Boar’s Head, in Southwark. I got to know much more about the area in the light of the Shakespeare research. For instance that Lambeth was once the Lamb’s Bath on the river, or that the little market street ‘Lower Marsh’, like ‘Upper Ground’ in Paris Gardens, testified to the effective swamp land this was South of the unembanked river, haunt of cutpurses and gypsies. Hence on Maid Lane too the Globe theatre had been ‘forced out of a marish’ in 1599, or a marsh, as Ben Jonson records in his long poem The Exacration Against Vulcan. Of course the astrologer Simon Foreman also lived in Lambeth, marrying in St Mary’s, beside Lambeth Palace, now the modern Garden Museum. But right at the end of Gilbert Road, turning into Renfrew Road and running into Kennington Lane, the search also began for another lost Elizabethan theatre, the wooden playhouse in Newington Butts, where Shakespeare may have played. On Kennington Lane the names of some ugly Council Estates, like Othello and Brutus Court, testify to its presence, perhaps in the circle that is now a garden, although a mile from the river down Newington Causeway it proved too far out, which is why Henslowe cashed in by building The Rose on Maid Lane. The most likely source of any extant records or clues was at its local church too, St Mary’s Newington, there being nothing in the Metropolitan Archive, which still has a thin sliver of medieval curtain wall looking especially incongrous on Kennington Park Road. A vicar I had befriended told me that Giles Frazer had taken over there, the Cannon who resigned at St Paul’s over the Occupy London protests, but whether he had become too much of a celebrity, was too busy, or thinks Shakespeare and the players unimportant to the plight of the modern urban poor, he never got back to me. That modern poverty is of course much in evidence, especially around the Elephant and Castle, that rather swamps the lost area of Newington Butts.

The London Metropolitan Archive itself though is in an unremarkable little street in Clerkenwell north of the river, faced by a large deconsecrated church and a playground, once a plague burial ground, I think.  Through the glass door, once you’ve pressed the button, and have signed in with the usually polite but disinterested security guard, up you go, see-through plastic Metropolitan bag in hand, to deposit any closed bags in the locker room.  Much the same process and security as in the British Library, where I spent a great deal of time too, reading their copy of Frances Meres’s book, or learning more of Kit Marlowe.   The place is modern, efficient and helpful, and the sourcing is done on a row of computers, mostly, or via the shelved parish record catalogues. Your hand written order chits are then slipped into the order box, to await delivery in the glass sided and temperature regulated reading room beyond.  Pencils and sharpeners in hand you then await the thrilling delivery of those buff boxes, filled with vestry minutes, token books, wills, covenants, scraps of semi-legible medieval paper, hand drawings, or leases, to unfurl them on the reading tables, open delicate volumes on large v-shaped foam reading mounts, keep the tomes open with heavy lead book snakes, or fall fast asleep.  I admit I have never been very good with libraries, easily distracted, keen to flirt, hungry for discoveries that take a long time,  Yet when Shakespeare is in the frame, or that particular period, there is a very special thrill getting your hands on original Elizabethan paper.  As Alan Nelson pointed out of the Token Books, which are just like long restaurant menus, bound with breaking linen threads, all hand written lists of Southwark locals and purchases of Communion Tokens, paper far long-lasting than anything we would produce today, often with particular watermarks. Summoning up images of that first paper mill on the Thames that saw its founder knighted by the Queen, as the establishment have always knighted captains of industry. This was the very beginnings of the printed word though.

So what are you exactly holding there, as you search for that golden moment that never comes, the sight of an unknown record of Shakespeare, or his brother Edmund?  Well, the loose leafed vestry minutes from St Saviours, for instance, are often single or double folds of paper, scratched with fading black ink, often with the minute instincts of the accountant or secretary and hard to read. But so the thrill begins of seeing those words on the covers of the Token Books, that are already numinous places in your head – “Ye Liberty of the Clink, “Ye Libertie of Bankside, “Ye Liberty of Paris Gardens.” Then there is the variable spelling, especially of names, the accounting of pounds and pence, L an i, and the Elizabethan confusion with f, ff, and s.  At first too you have no idea who these hieroglyphs refer to at all, until, screwing up your eyes and your brain too, an english sentence suddenly pops out  and firms up in your  mind- “To the widowe Bradshawe”, “paid to the bishop to bringe water from the Thames in their cartes” –  “A forenoon toll of ye greate bell“, “Paid to the sexton for the burning of mens bones“.  Lives, love, commerce, the past, the church, begin to echo in your head, flicker like candle light, and just for a moment the jigsaw becomes clear, until it is lost again in a maze of broken pieces.  Depending too perhaps on whether or not you believe in ghosts, or trying to get to some harder truth, the conjunction of realities and falsehoods that makes any life, it can be both depressing and even frightening sometimes doing that lonely research.  Take for instance the year 1603, five years before Edmund Shakespeare’s little tragedy, when Queen Elizabeth I finally died, I think in March, after standing for hours on her feet.  As with the death of King James, meaningfully or not, plague hit London very hard that year, and its echo is held in the St Saviour’s Burial Register.  That, like some of the Token Books, is too fragile to be released into the eager hands in the Reading Room and so is on microfilm now. But look at that year patterned on a scrolling neon screen, a patient etherised upon a table, and you will get an astoundingly dark taste of that time.  I believe the average monthly mortality rates in the parish of Southwark were something like 80 deaths, nasty, short and brutal enough, but in May that “Suma Mensis” rises to something like 200, then around 350, to over five hundred by July. So the agonising litany unfolds, in a year that took the player and original Globe sharer Will Kemp too – “A man in the street”, “A servant dropped by the wall”, “A woman in ye Church yard” “A Gentleman”, “A boy”, “A girl” “A stranger”.This was Shakespeare’s real and very dangerous London and remember that Southwark, across the river and outside London wall, was only one Parish among those 212. By October the tally has climbed to over 850 dead and then, the next month, it suddenly dips again.  What lets you really touch it across the centuries though, gives the sense that that great church of St Saviours had become almost besieged by the dead, is the physical sigh of relief you can detect in that unknown vestryman’s hand, as below the list of the fallen a scrolling line trails off down the page.  The plague had finally broken, taking over 100,000 lives across London, and it also shows that although some believed it was a visitation by God, or the ‘foul miasma’s’ of the brothels, bear pits and theatres, these people must have known that it had a pathology.  You sigh and look out of the window at a winter night, or leaves coming on the trees, and wonder what it all signifies, or if it is a tale told by an idiot.

That’s the dark stuff though, compared with the fun of the hunt, and those moments of greater satisfaction.  The egg on the face moment of thinking I had found a reference to a Ben Jonson play in the ‘records’ of Cure’s College, the accumulating data of the centuries, the fascinating snippets about a death ‘in sui felo’, a suicide at the house at Bank End that was overturned in such a rowdy liberty because it would have meant a daughter did not inherit when her father drowned in the river, the approach to the local poor shown in a payment “to send a woman out of the Parish“, and the real thrill of linking the Vine Tavern where Edmund died, to the founding of that local fraternity at St Margaret’s Church on Long Southwark, in the reign of Henry VI, and its ownership by John Le Hunte, Edward Hunt Esquire’s ancestor.  There is another very remarkable thing you of course learn at the London Metropolitan Archive too, as you chat to the staff about the Guilds structures in London, the 12 great Livery Companies, or who might have fallen into what parish, and in what particular Ward, as a group of uneager schoolboys arrive to try something else with the computers, or a lone figures plods away at their own family history. Namely that before Henry VIII’s shattering Reformation itself there simply are no records, apart from a scrap of a document from the Magna Carta period referring to the rights of a Man.  In that sense Shakespeare’s or the Tudor age is a kind of beginning of modern time, in that crowding but still deeply rural and wooden London, and in the municipalization of us all. Nothing ever so certain as Death and Taxes! In the restructuring of the Church into parishes too and the very founding of Parish Registers of christenings, weddings and funerals, in the suring up of Sir Names, so often based on trades, once called The Mysteries, in the all-consuming account of daily expenditure, and in the move from the fable and the chronicle to the conception of modern history and sociology. Then of course there is that secularisation of theatre, or players, the explosion of printing, literature and poetry and of course the man of the moment and all time, Shakespeare, with his strange, eventful histories. A man who knew so well how both the records and people lie, or veil, but that the real history is the history of the human heart, mind and soul.

David Clement-Davies January 24th 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.

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The image is a Wikipdia photgraph of Shakespeare’s Stratford will, written in the classic ‘secretary’ hand, not Shakespeare’s but a scrivener’s, but with his signature at the bottom.

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THE SHAKESPEARE BLOG – THE STRANGE CASE OF EDMUND SHAKESPEARE AND MR JONSON!

220px-Benjamin_Jonson_by_Abraham_van_Blyenberch

One of the less succesful moments in the search through St Saviour’s records for Edmund Shakespeare, his immortal brother William and Southwark in general was when I stumbled on a payment in the London records “For Mr Jonson’s Book“. It came in an odd place though, namely the loose leaf records of Cure’s College, that little Southwark Alms house founded in 1588. You have to know the difficulty of reading those records, most especially deciphering variously spelled names, and gradually beginning to recognise them too, to understand why, as your eyes start to deteriorate or your pencil blunts in the London Metropolitan Archive, you can suddenly give into the tendency to convince yourself of a Eureka moment.

The first and real Eureka moment was when I had linked the lease of that tavern where Edmund Shakespeare very probably died in December 1607, The Vine on Maid Lane, directly to a local Southwark fraternity granted Livery back in 1460, The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, and given rights by the King at Westminster, Henry VI, to buy local land of up to Sixty Marks. That was a true window on the history of the entire area because it established the significance of St Margaret’s Church, in the middle of Long Southwark and right opposite the Tabard. Which linked lay church life to the growth of London and commerce in general, in a very louche area, famous for the Bishops of Winchester licensing those ‘Winchester Geese’, for bear and bull-baiting and later for its theatres too. Peter Avergne and John Le Hunte were two of those livery wearing church wardens who invested in both The Vine and The Axe on Maid Lane, in a riverside district of perhaps 300 inns by Shakespeare’s day. John Le Hunte is clearly the direct ancestor of Edward Hunt, Esquire, who by Elizabeth’s reign owned sizeable land in Southwark called ‘Hunt’s Rents’ and bequeathed the Vine tavern to his pregnant wife Mary, also in 1588. His will is up on line. From there many discoveries arose, from the appearance of ‘pleyers’ working for the church back in the 15th Century and performing around St Margaret’s Cross, to the story of the rebel Jack Cade. Who marched from Blackheath and sacked the City in the real beginning of the Wars of the Roses, and fought the Battle of London Bridge, meeting the Bishop of Winchester, William Waynflete, inside St Margaret’s. Cade and his men were staying just opposite at the White Hart Inn, a few doors up from the Tabard. The very catholic and originally Norman church of St Margarets was of course suppressed at the Reformation, and turned into a local compter prison. As the big church, St Mary’s Ovaries Priory, was renamed St Saviours and Bermondsey abbey was broken up too. The Tudor revolution had begun and Southwark was hit dramatically.

But there was a valid reason for my false Eureka moment over “Mr Jonson’s book”, which at the time I thought might be a payment for a lost play by Ben Jonson himself, perhaps the missing “Isle of Dogges”, because of the date of 1598, or possibly “Every Man in his Humour”. Though there are no extant records for the Globe theatre, and Phillip Henslowe’s account books remain the prime source for the period and the theatres, it was not so absurd to assume, in the ad hoc nature of early impresarios and payments from the bag in local churches too, that Henslowe’s hand had got in here somehow. After all Henslowe was both vestryman and warden of St Saviours, which he lived right next door to at the Bell, for several years with his son-in-law the great actor Edward Alleyn. Whose name appears with Henslowe’s on The Great Enqueste in James’s reign, when a scandal developed at the church over abuse of money for the poor. The other reason is those ancient papers for St Margaret’s, St Saviours, and Cures College too, are all bunched together in those buff boxes in the London Metropolitan archive.

Heart in mouth I turned to The Shakespeare Institute in Stratford and Professor Martin Wiggins, a Jonsonesque figure himself in his leathers and Doc Martins. Martin was encouraging at first, although it was tellingly the price of the payment, which I hadn’t written down properly, that raised the greatest question mark. He explained that plays of the period were worth £5 or £6, although Henslowe often gave advances of 20 shillings to writers, which is incidentally the same amount that was paid for Edmund Shakespeare’s funeral. True to any writer’s concern with money, fame and fortune though, as I sought for the book I was trying to write too, I rushed back to the archives only to discover that this payment for ‘Mr Jonson’s Book” was for a mere tuppence! On further eye-scrunching scrutiny of those often illegible papers, if on very good and thick Elizabethan paper, it turned out that this Mr Jonson was just a local scrivener, his little ‘book’ perhaps for copying something, or making an accounts book for the church, and my hopes were dashed.

Yet never be disheartened too easily in the search for such a fascinating period. This goodly scrivener became another of the local figures coming back to life along the river, characters dimly discernible through the veil of financial records, like the Sexton paid at a time of obvious plague “for the burning of men’s bones”, or one “Widow Bradshawe”, one of the local beneficiaries of a place at that alms house, Cure’s College, whose name appears repeatedly. With the likes of Henslowe himself, Ned Alleyn and lost Edmund Shakespeare, they help build a fascinating sociological history of Southwark and theatreland, much about London’s poor too, among whom the players moved constantly. As fascinating as the characters in the Token Books or Vestry Minutes, in trouble with local Constables for refusing to buy Communion Tokens, at various times of heightened religious tensions, or marked down for the number of women moving in with them. Or as the foul mouthed watermen and taverners along the river, among the Stewes, or the sudden occurence of new professions in the marriage and christening records of St Saviours; like shipwrights or a ‘Hansom man’, one of the first moving ‘taxis’, joined with the arrival in Southwark of printers and publishers called ‘men in books’. An odd tale for a blog, in an age when millions of words are spewed out onto the web every day, and so losing so much value, meaning and power. But I am still convinced that was an age as revolutionary to the world of thought, because of printing, reform and theatres, as the internet or the closing of the London Stationers office only as recently as 2005 is to the now.

David Clement-Davies January 22 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.

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The image is taken from Wikipedia and is a portrait of Ben Jonson.

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THE SHAKESPEARE BLOG – SOUTHWARK, SHOES, SCANDALS AND SADDLERS

220px-Southwark_Cathedral_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1498322

One of the most famous of all Shakespeare’s soliloquies must be Henry V’s immortal “St Cripsin’s Day” speech, but few know its special significance to a Southwark audience, in particular at the Globe. Agincourt of course took place on October 25th 1415, the feast of Crispin Crispianus, brother Saints who would have had special significance to soldiers because they were the patron saints of cobblers and shoemakers. Of course Southwark, as well as being theatreland and crowded with taverners and watermen along the river and Long Southwarke, the great thoroughfare across the bridge, was, as an area of ‘the stink trades’, butchery, tanning and leather working, also a great centre for cobblers. Indeed, when Henry VIII called St Saviour’s ‘a verie great churche’ it was also at a time when he granted incorporation to the Guild of Leatherworkers and one Leonard Scragges as Warden. The associations with the leather trade would continue, particularly in the presence of one Thomas Cure, Warden of St Saviour’s, as Phillip Henslowe would become too, and saddler to Queen Elizabeth I herself.

The Cures became a prominent Southwark family and are mentioned several times in Al Rowse’s book on the astrologer Simon Foreman, who specifically referenced visits to the Globe to see Macbeth and The Tempest. There were two Thomas Cures, father and son, but one Cure attended Foreman’s wedding, further along the river in Lambeth, in the Church of St Mary’s Lambeth, which today is the Garden Museum. Elias Ashmole, William Tredescent and Captain Bligh were all buried there, but Foreman’s house was just across the road, all in the shadow of the beautiful Elizabethan building and seat of the archbishops of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace. There is a wonderful inscription on the wall outside St Mary’s regarding a bequest of £100 to be used for the education of two local boys, yearly, but which specifically forbids it to ‘Watermen, chimney sweeps and Catholiks’!

The social role and purpose of the church was one that would be specifically challenged in Southwark at St Saviours in the days when Henslowe was a Warden and also running his theatres and the Royal Barge House, along with being ‘Master of the Game’. Then a scandal erupted around their use of alms for the poor and the building of a huge new refectory, when the number of Vestrymen had risen to 80 strong. An act was even mooted in the parliament, though in the end the Wardens appeared to have reformed themselves. They were already running a local school and alms house though called Cure’s College, which appears constantly in the records I was searching through in my hunt for Edmund Shakespeare. It stood on Maid Lane too and by the 18th Century had become a forbidding stone institution around a central garden. It was founded though in 1588 in the Will of Thomas Cure, who died in the same year as Edward Hunt, that owner of the Vine Tavern on Maid Lane and direct descendent of John Le Hunte, one of the Brethren of that Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption at St Margaret’s Church on Long Southwarke, repressed at the Reformation. Cure’s bound will is one of the more remarkable documents in a collection I think so important I even approached the Liberal MP Simon Hughes to try and establish a special Southwark-Shakespeare collection, though to no avail.

There will be a further blog of the importance of Southwark to the Reformation battle itself, especially in a church that lay at the beginning of the Canterbury Road, where Becket had preached, and which later became highly prominent in Mary’s attempt to take England back to Catholicism too, because she staged the Marian heresy trials inside the church. But Thomas Cure was of a very Elizabethan religious stamp, veering towards that puritanism that would spread in London closer to James’s I’s reign, at least on the surface. His will establishes provision for 16 local poor, men and women, but also the rules under which the college functioned. So they had to kneel at dawn and dusk, on the ringing of the hand bell, and recite the Lord’s Prayer. They had to work for their upkeep too, and Cure laid down specific fines against brawling, swearing and fornicating. It all makes starker reading in the light of Southwark’s especially colourful reputation, that land of theatres, brothels and gamboling houses, but is absolutely the prototype for the hated Victorian Workhouse. Except in Shakespeare’s day it was a much humbler affair with the records full of little payments to buy a cloak or hose, stockings, for one of the boys or girls, to send for a Doctor, or to buy bread. I have wondered if Phillip Henslowe’s own hand is on those records, as he continued to fill his purse from his entertainments, but it gives a fascinating picture of local life and of the very thin social support networks they had.

David Clement-Davies 20 January 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.

Donations

The image is a Wikipedia photo of Southwark Cathedral, renamed St Saviour’s at the Reformation but originally part of St Mary’s Overies priory. Thomas Cure was a Warden here as was the famous Phillip Henslowe and for a time his Son-in-Law the actor Edward Alleyn. Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund was buried inside the church on December 31st, 1607, at the age of 27.

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