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Arden of Faversham - Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) - Theatre Review

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TV star Sharon Small makes impressive RSC debut
Transported into modern times by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), this 16th Century play of murder and adultery seems to fit seemlessly into the current era.

Part of it is down to the excellent characterisation of manipulative wife Alice Arden as a blonde footballer's wife type figure while her nouveau riche lover is clad head to toe in designer gear and white trainers.

Sharon Small and Ian Redford in Arden of Faversham

Director Polly Findlay's vision is to also inject a healthy dose of black comedy into this thriller based on a real-life Elizabethan killing.

This cautionary tale follows unfaithful housewife Alice as she plots to kill her businessman husband with the help of a series of staff and London crooks.

We now find ourselves in a 21st Century warehouse full of Chinese lucky cat dolls that hilariously wag their paws at the most crucial of moments.

Chinese lucky cats feature heavily in Arden of Faversham

Blood flows freely, but it is far from gruesome or scary and done in an almost pantomime manner. The only real dark moment is the actual killing of Arden - but even that is followed by a comic scenario as the gang of rogues try and hide the body from dinner party guests.

Sharon Small makes her RSC debut with the immense role of Alice Arden. Small is a household name due to BBC shows such as the Inspector Lynley Mysteries and Mistresses, but it is a fine first appearance, and she is equally as watchable on stage as she is on television.

Sharon Small is passionate and manipulative in Arden of Faversham

Sprightly and seductive, Small constantly toes the line in her stiletto heels between coquettish, manipulative and passionate.

Her character's relationship with lover Mosby (an excellent Keir Charles) is delightfully fiery as they constantly toy with each other's emotions and jump between love and hate. At their most tender moments, he even removes his chewing gum before giving her a passionate snog.

Another bonus is the detail given to the ancillary characters - a series of awkward, nerdy people. Mosby's hard-done-by sister, Susan, is pronounced for being so obscure to her family. She dutifully appears in washing up gloves and apron to clean up their mess, almost like a younger version of Julie Walters' Mrs Overall in Victoria Wood's Acorn Antiques.

Elspeth Brodie as Susan Mosby is one of the many delightful minor characters

The real highlight of this production however is the bungling guns-for-hire, Black Will and Shakebag, who manage to muck up their assassination task through a series of comical failings.

Actors Jay Simpson and Tony Jayawardena are full of cockney swagger and so good that they even get the biggest laughs when you can't even see them on stage - in the pitch black and deepest fog.

It's another directorial success for Polly Findlay, following on from Protest Song and Antigone for the National Theatre, as well as Olivier Award-winning Derren Brown: Svengali.

Her RSC directing debut is full of zest and fun ahead of her next directing projects of War Horse for the National in Berlin and then a new play by Tim Price for the National Theatre Shed later this year.

Arden of Faversham brings a historic play into the 21st Century

Watching this adaptation, it's hard to imagine that Arden of Faversham dates back more than 400 years to 1592.

Although published anonymously, it has been attributed to playwrights including Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. And now Polly Findlay has put her stamp on it too. Thoroughly enjoyable - go see it!

Score: 8/10

Arden of Faversham

Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon - April 30 - October 2

Tickets cost from 5. To book tickets call 0844 800 1110 or visit the RSC website.

There are 5 tickets for 16-25s. Tickets can be booked in advance on the phone, online or in person with some available for sale on the day of the performance. The scheme is supported by Project Partner, BP.

Arden of Faversham is 1h 40mins long with no interval.

Ian Redford - Arden
Jay Simpson - Black Will
Sharon Small - Alice Arden
Joe Bannister - Lord Cheyne
Ian Bonar - Michael
Peter Bray - Company
Elspeth Brodie - Susan
Colin Brown - Company
Keir Charles - Mosby
Geoffrey Freshwater - Franklin
Lizzie Hopley - Mrs Reede
Joan Iyiola - Company
Tony Jayawardena - Shakebag
Christopher Middleton - Clarke
Ken Nwosu - Ferryman
Tom Padley - Greene

What people are saying about this on Twitter:

@ahacreatives: Back to the RSC for the Arden of Faversham - great fun with a terrific design from Merle Hensel. Lots of money cats and lots of blood.

(Libby Purves) @Lib_thinks: RSC's ridiculously winning Arden of Faversham.

@jczreid: Highly recommend the very funny and beautifully designed Arden of Faversham at @theRSC.
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Why? British historic play given modern transformation
When: Until October 2
Phone: 0844 800 1110
Where: Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: From 5
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