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Posts Tagged ‘Henry Lawes’

This is a masque written by poet John Milton in 1634 to mark the appointment of the Earl of Bridgewater as ‘Lord President’ (something like today’s Lord Lieutenant) of Wales. In Lucy Bailey’s production it’s more of a masque-within-a-masque, with the final rehearsal as a prologue and a bit of a feminist epilogue.

The masque appears to be designed to whitewash the Bridgewater family name after a scandal involving a wicked uncle, so its theme is chastity. The players include the Earl’s three children and members of his staff. In Bailey’s production, it almost doesn’t go ahead as the Earl’s daughter throws a strop during the final rehearsal. 

Comus is an enchanter with a bunch of ‘monstrous followers’. He seeks to bed The Lady, who has lost the two brothers accompanying her. They eventually find her bound to a chair (like something out of a 17th century brothel) under a spell, in immediate danger of losing her virginity. A nymph of the River Severn turns up to break the spell and set her free.

It’s a bit of a romp, good fun, but a touch overcooked I thought. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has had a bit of a makeover by designer William Dudley with an elevated walkway around the back of the pit and a pit within the pit that extends under the stage to represent the River Severn. The gothic masks and ivy which adorn the theatre create a great setting and the costumes are terrific. Above all, there’s lovely music combining original songs by Henry Lawes with music by his contemporaries like Dowland and Gibbons and modern additions by folk band Blowzabella and composer Paul James. It’s a fine ensemble, with Philip Cumbus giving us a great turn as Henry Lawes.

Perfect for the SWP, fascinating to see a masque that isn’t by Purcell, and jolly good fun.

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