Having a gay old time of it with Shakespeare and his company in Foul Pages at the Hope Theatre, London.
““We’re going to get it up the arse by the new King of England…’
Thank God we rehearsed.”
It is easy to slip into reverence with artistic representations of William Shakespeare, such is his storied reputation but pleasingly, there’s little of that on display here in Robin Hooper’s Foul Pages. Imagining the man behind the myth, Hooper presents the Bard as a hard-working theatre professional, beset by controversies, split loyalties and tough decisions – the Vicky Featherstone of his day if you will.
His Rita, Sue… moment comes as a result of needing to secure the patronage of new king James I, not just for his own career prospects but to save the imprisoned Sir Walter Raleigh, a close personal friend of his collaborator the Countess of Pembroke. But to please the king is to disappoint some of his actors and in the Wiltshire estate where they’re all sequestered whilst London is riddled with plague, the consequences of puncturing actors’ egos become all too real.
What Hooper does well is to capture the spirit of these theatre-makers as something exciting and anarchic in contemporary society and director Matthew Parker emphasises this throughout – punctuating scenes with stabs of pulsing electro, ensuring punkish touches adorn Rachael Ryan’s costumes. And the exhilarating sexual charge that is riven through this company makes its emotional connections in the opening hour a fascinating study.
The shift to something darker, more serious for the play’s climax doesn’t quite crackle with the same energy – this is a show with a talking dog after all, fearlessly funny work from James King. But Ian Hallard’s Will and Clare Bloomer’s Mary are engaging as they wrestle over rewrites of As You Like It, as are Olivia Onyehara as sparky maid Peg and Tom Vanson’s expressive monarch, and in its exploration of artistic compromise and the perils of pursuing both sexual and political freedom, Foul Pages makes for strange eventful history.
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Foul Pages is booking until 17th March