Arden of Faversham – Spousicide, joking aside

Stratford-upon-Avon, RSC Swan Theatre 30 April – 2 October 2014

Alice‘s husband Arden is an unscrupulous capitalist, not the most attractive male, but kind to his wife.

Ian Redford (Arden) and Alice Arden (Sharon Small)

Ian Redford (Arden) and Alice Arden (Sharon Small)

Alice‘s husband must die, because Alice has a lover and a plan.

The play, that was written by an anonymous contemporary of Shakespeare‘s and first performed in 1592, is based on a true murder case that shocked the country in 1551.

Alice Arden (Sharon Small) and Keir Charles (Mosby)

Alice Arden (Sharon Small) and Keir Charles (Mosby)

Alice, played by a splendid capricious Sharon Small, together with her lover Mosby (beautifully greasy and shallow: Keir Charles) seeks support from Arden’s employee Michael (Ian Bonar), their neighbour Clarke (fabulous in his disgustingness: Christopher Middleton), newly landless tenant Greene (Tom Padley), who had been seen off by Arden, and two career criminals.

Elspeth Brodie (Susan)

Elspeth Brodie (Susan)

Big promises are made all over, and here Mosby’s sister Susan (in a wonderful tragicomical interpretation by Elspeth Brodie) plays a central part. The pressure to perform keeps rising, but murder turns out to be more difficult than expected. Arden, in Ian Redford a reckless businessman with no consideration but for his own concern, however also clumsy, naïve and cute-ish, with Franklin (Geoffrey Freshwater) as his own real human contact, seems to have more luck than reason.

Even the gangsters Shakebag (spectacular: Tony Jayawardena) and Black Will (Jay Simpson, with a touch of Pulp Fiction) meet obstacles and they cause side-splitting delays.

Alice Arden (Sharon Small) and Keir Charles (Mosby)

Alice Arden (Sharon Small) and Keir Charles (Mosby)

Ultimately, however, there is no turning back …

Bittersweet-touching, the scene when Joan Iyiola sings the folk ballad “The Butcher Boy“” with the line “I wish I were a maid again”, the song of longing for one’s forever lost innocence, right before justice takes its course.

Directed by Polly Findlay, the classic criminal case turns into a thrilling-comical-tragic current day conspiracy in a stuffy middle-class environment.

German-born designer Merle Hensel created a magnificent backdrop, using Japanese Lucky Waving Cats as a powerfully evolving image that bears the potential of a new phobia object.

This production is part of the RSC Roaring Girls season, a series of shows in Swan and Courtyard Theatre with a focus on strong-willed women, stewarded by the RSC’s Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman.

Photos by Manuel Harlan


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