Compared to the number of Shakespeare productions that must be staged in London every year, his Jacobean and Elizabethan contemporaries are rarely produced. The opportunity to see Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside in the ruins of The Rose Theatre, built in 1587, is a most rare one indeed.
The Rose is an archeological treasure with a small performance space overlooking to excavated remains. It is not the most comfortable of spaces – there is no heating or toilets, but the volunteer staff members provide the audience with blankets and Shakespeare’s Globe allows Rose audiences to use their facilities. Despite the potential for discomfort, it remains one of the most unique performance venues in London. It has the potential to dramatically emphasize a play and its production values, but directors do not always fully exploit the venue’s potential.
Set in the 1950’s, this version of A Chaste Maid in Cheapside aims to draw attention to post-war sexual frivolity and a rising middle class. Running at just over an hour, this edit focuses on the sex and relationship politics of the characters. The 1950’s aspect is conveyed solely through costume and music. Red is a dominant colour, matching the rope lights that outline the theatre’s excavated foundations, the set’s archways, and the themes of love, lust and anger. The goal of portraying a more powerful middle class does not particularly come across, but that is due to a middle class not existing at the time the play was written even though some of the characters are driven by money. The era’s post-war positivity and rebellious youth does suit this script very well, however.
Overall, the performances are very good. In particular, Alana Ross and Fergus Leathem are fantastically funny as Sir and Lady Kix. Richard Reed and Harry Russell, who play the brothers Touchwood, compliment each other well. Reed plays a cockney wide boy marketing his virility to barren couples and Russell is a wide-eyed young lover. Both play their parts with energy, enthusiasm and commitment. Commendably, casting was age-appropriate to the role. The pace of line delivery takes some time to pick up, but the second half of the play is delightfully quick.
This script has been heavily edited. Even though the story has been pared down to focus on the sexual dynamics, it did not leave much scope for character development. Quite a lot of exposition has been lost, which makes the action feel artificial and rushed. Even an extra half an hour would have given this production more substance.
The opportunities to see this play are rare and there are certainly some very good production elements in this adaptation, but the editing lets it down. The concept can feel tacked on at points, particularly with large chunks of text missing. Fortunately the second half and the performances help compensate, as does the novelty of the Rose itself.
Star Rating: ☆☆☆
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