Sunday, 21 December 2014

Re-review: The Knight of the Burning Pestle

Although the launch season at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse only ran for a few months, it already provided a hit they deemed worthy of revival, and I was excited to see that the show in question was Adele Thomas' production of The Knight of the Burning Pestle. You can read my original review here, from which you can probably tell I was glad of the chance to revisit it, and most of the original cast have returned with it. New additions are Paul Brendan as the giant, Louise Ford as Luce, and Jolyon Coy as Jasper (sporting what I think may be his actual hair colour, a rare occasion indeed!) Aside from a couple of new faces and the addition of a few Christmassy touches, the major obvious change from earlier this year is that one of the short interludes has been cut, leaving just one in the first half and one in the second; a good choice, as the only major fault with the show remains that it's too long, and already has too many pauses for a musical number.

Other than that though, if you fancy telling people you've been catching up on your worthy classical theatre while actually having spent the time in the middle of a lot of glorious silliness, this remains the show for you. The publicity reminds us The Knight of the Burning Pestle runs "not one but two plays within-the-play simultaneously," but this isn't quite the whole story, as the three levels keep crashing into each other, villains Mistress Merrythought and her son Michael (Hannah McPake and Giles Cooper) winding up in the wrong play by accident, then deciding they prefer it there as they get to be good guys.

The lovely attention to detail in the performances, that gives everyone the chance to steal the show, remains one of the best things about it: Not just Matthew Needham's sweetly gormless Rafe, blissfully unaware he's made a mortal enemy of Coy's seething Jasper; or Dickon Tyrrell's Humphrey, the comic grotesque of the piece who finds himself recast as the romantic juvenile by a confused audience. But Dean Nolan, Dennis Herdman and Samuel Hargreaves as the supporting players lumbered with having to make Rafe's adventures come to life all give their characters distinct personalities.

This time around I also enjoyed more about "The London Merchant," the cheesy play we're ostensibly there to see - the scene of Jasper pretending to be his own ghost to haunt Venturewell works both as a spoof of Jacobean theatre tropes, and as a funny scene in its own right. This was my Christmas present to my mum, and knowing about the staging in advance meant I could get her into the middle of the action, sitting us right across the aisle from Phil Daniels and Pauline McLynn as the meddling Citizen and his wife. In the end she ended up even more in the thick of it than expected, as Paul Rider's Merrythought sidling up to her with some mistletoe meant she came away with quite a lot of red face-paint on her cheek.

The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Francis Beaumont is booking until the 11th of January at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

Running time: 2 hours 55 minutes including one interval and two interludes.

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