Posts Tagged ‘Philip Cumbus’

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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I was so looking forward to this. The NT’s Mysteries are one of the high points of my theatre going life. They were also using Tony Harrison’s version and The Globe seemed the sort of space they were made for. I think I was looking forward to it too much…..

At the Cottesloe all those years ago it took all day – The Nativity in the morning, The Passion in the afternoon and Doomsday to send you home on a high! Adam and Eve came out of the sand in which they were buried. Brain Glover’s god made me wish I was a believer. When it came to Judgement Day, I was somewhat appropriately on the wrong side, destined for hell. At the Globe, we race through from creation to passion in 80 minutes, then it took an age (as it were) to get from there to judgement day. The first half is so fast it lacks depth and the second half really does drag.

There are some nice touches and effective scenes – a chilling  massacre of the innocents, a last supper Da Vinci freeze frame, the workman’s thumb injury as he nails Christ to the cross, the same workmen using their mobiles to photograph their finished work and the division of the theatre on judgement day…..but these were small rewards in an overall dull production. A lot of the verse was barely audible and though the lead performances by David Hargreaves as God, William Ash as Jesus, Philip Cumbus as Gabriel & Judas, Paul Hunter as Lucifer and Matthew Pidgeon as Joseph & Pilate were good, the ensemble could have been stronger. There was a touch af AmDram to the design, no doubt intentional but in my view misguided and I didn’t think the style of music worked – but in all fairness John Tams terrific folk score from the NT version is still ringing in my ears 25 years on.

From my perspective, a disappointment and a lost opportunity I’m afraid.

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When I heard that the Open Air Theatre were going to break with tradition and stage this intense drama, I thought they were very misguided. How wrong was I?!

Arthur Miller’s timeless piece about the late 17th century Salem witch trials with parallels to the 1952 McCarthy witch hunt is a cracking drama, particularly in the second half when the trials are taking place. It’s simply staged on an elevated platform which represents the wall of a house on its side, characters entering upwards through it’s doors & windows. Surrounded by trees which last night were moving eerily in the chill June wind and much of the time by a silent ‘chorus’ of girls who become the hysterical force which convicts many innocents.

They’ve assembled a very impressive cast for this short run. You want to give Christopher Fulford’s Reverend Parris a slap across the face for being so foolish. Oliver Ford Davies has real authority and gravitas as the Deputy-Governor. Emily Taffe is a very creepy Abigail with revealing changes of expression you think only you can see. Susan Engel’s Rebecca starts as a respected matriarch and ends dignified despite her erroneous conviction. You want to cheer Patrick Godfrey’s defiant Giles as he beats the system, even in death. Philip Cumbus’ Hale makes a very believable transition from honest broker to angry champion of justice. Emma Cuniffe and Patrick O’Kane both have shaky starts but come into their own in the second half’s tragedy.

As the sun sets and the air becomes more chilly, the drama becomes much more intense and by the end you’re not sure if you’re shivering because of the weather or the drama or both. This is a triumph for Timothy Sheader and the Open Air Theatre, best known for comedy and musicals, and opens up all sorts of possibilities for the future. I’m thinking Greek Tragedy. Medea please!

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