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Cobblers In Love And War For RSC Comedy
The last time Phillip Breen directed for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), he brought audiences the witty escapades of the Merry Wives of Windsor.
Those wives had a touch of modern day vulgarity about them in the 2012 production that included former Eastenders' star Anita Dobson.
This time around, the talented director has turned his hand to a revival of Thomas Dekker's Jacobean comedy The Shoemaker's Holiday, which again uses class differences and vulgarity, but also the more sombre tone of war.
Don't be fooled into thinking this is the usual frivolous city comedy - it's much more grave than that. While it does have a gentle dose of humour, what you take away from the weaving plot is an endearing sentimentality and the menacing shadow and brutality of men being forced off to fight in France for their king. The doom hangs over our band of cobblers (and children) right through to the final gloomy scene.
The RSC Christmas production at The Swan Theatre is The Shoemaker's Holiday
Grand candelabras, decorative arches and a huge stained glass window greet the audience to the play. Although the premise of the tale is a romance between star-crossed lovers, from early on it's clear that there are darker elements at play.
We start with lovelorn aristocrat Rowland Lacy abandoning his call-up to war and instead hiding in the heart of London as a Dutch shoemaker. Donning clogs and a dodgy accent, it's all in order to find a way to marry the middle class girl he loves that he has been forbidden from seeing.
Ending up under the roof of lovable, coarse cobbler Simon Eyre, the love story pales into insignificance as the real highlight is following the adventures of wonderfully jolly Eyre - a sort of Alfred Doolittle from Pygmalion character - and his accidental rise to power to become the Mayor of London.
While this "gentleman of the gentle craft" never forgets his roots, his ridiculous wife Margery becomes more and more eccentric with airs, graces and wigs. Actors David Troughton and Vivien Parry who play Mr and Mrs Eyre, really are a winning pair and they brighten up the play every time they walk on stage.
Antics galore in The Shoemaker's Holiday with Mr and Mrs Eyre
Meanwhile in the sidelines is a tender, heartwrenching story of newly married Ralph who is forced off to fight in the war and returns badly scarred and unable to find his wife until a coincidence throws him a lifeline.
What Breen does well with Dekker's script is manage to hone in on those wonderful human characteristics that drive all of our leading players.
Romance and drama in the Shoemaker's Holiday
There's the comaraderie among cobblers, the enduring love of Ralph, the pride of our shoemaker Eyre and the young ernest love of aristocrat Rowland.
And while it all bubbles along nicely, the final scenes lift the play to another level of mirth as well as doom when the King pays a visit. It's a clever piece of finely crafted work.
This is the first time this play has been produced for the RSC and it takes place at The Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon until March 7.
The Shoemaker's Holiday
Stratford upon Avon
11 December 2014 - 7 March 2015
Tickets cost from £5 to £35 and are available from the RSC website.
2 hrs 20 mins plus a 20mins interval
The Shoemaker's Holiday from the RSC
Ben Allen (Askew)
Ross Armstrong (Warner)
Daniel Boyd (Ralph Damport)
Vincent Carmichael (Earl of Lincoln)
Laura Cubitt (Seamstress)
Hedydd Dylan (Jane Damport)
Sandy Foster (Sybil)
William Gaminara (Sir Roger Oatley)
Michael Grady-Hall (Lovell)
Michael Hodgson (Hodge)
Jack Holden (The King)
Andrew Langtree (Dodger)
Joel MacCormack (Firk)
Tom McCall (Skipper)
Josh O'Connor (Rowland Lacy)
Vivien Parry (Margery Eyre)
Thomasin Rand (Rose Oatley)
David Troughton (Simon Eyre)
Jamie Wilkes (Hammon).
Designer - Max Jones
Lighting - Tina MacHugh
Music - Jason Carr
Sound - Andrea J Cox
Movement - Ayse Tashkiran.