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Fair Em at the Union Theatre

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at and my theatre reviews at
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Conquerors, millers, lovers and confusion in Southwark
London is bursting to the seams with fringe theatres, and one little gem is the Union Theatre on Union Street. It is located behind a café, and boasts a cosy bar, complete with fuel burning stove, at the rear.

Union Theatre
Union Theatre

The current production is Fair Em, a play dating from the 1590s that was at one time attributed to Shakespeare. It's an anachronistic romp set in the reign of William the Conqueror, with a cast dressed in fourteenth century costume, a backdrop of a seventeenth-century map of London, and the addition of English folk songs going back to the nineteenth century.

Em and her father must disguise their upper class status and pose as a miller and his daughter in order to escape the forces of William the Conqueror, who are murdering the English gentry. In the meantime she has to contend with three rival suitors, whilst, at the same time, the duke of Normandy is off in Denmark in pursuit of Blanch, a woman whose image he has fallen in love with. Her father, the king, is no more than a robber baron, who has kidnapped a Swedish princess, Mariana, and is holding her for ransom; William promptly falls in love with her and out of love with Blanch. Back in England Em's attempts to dissuade two of her wooers also succeed in ridding her of her true love as well. When King William arrives back in England he must sort out all the various complications to ensure a happy ending.

Fair Em
Fair Em

Despite the complications of the plot, this is an easy play to follow, even when characters are wearing masks. The locations of England and Denmark are clearly delineated by the journeys of a model sailing boat that travels back and forth across the map. A group of strolling players, collectively known as Green Willow, appear throughout the production to offer musical accompaniment and the comedy flows thick and fast, especially of a lavatorial kind involving a chamber pot.

The cast appear to have as much fun as the audience and everybody lives happily ever after. A perfect theatrical beginning to a miserable January.

Fair Em
Fair Em
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Why? To see a fun piece of theatre
When: Tuesday - Saturday at 7.30
Where: Union Theatre
Cost: £18 concessions
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