The Herbal Bed is an English Touring Theatre, Royal & Derngate, Northampton and Rose Theatre Kingston co-production.
“Love changes us. Love’s alchemy! In that furnace everything changes. Hard stone shatters, iron goes soft and turns to liquid… and so do we… in love’s fire”
Based upon real events from Stratford-upon-Avon in the summer of 1613, The Herbal Bed is a powerful thriller about human desire. When William Shakespeare’s daughter is publicly accused of adultery, her family’s lives fall under the glare of intense public scrutiny. Culminating in a dramatic trial at Worcester Cathedral, the scandal threatens to destroy her family’s reputation within their tight-knit community.
Written by Peter Whelan and directed by James Dacre, the cast includes Emma Lowndes (Downton Abbey, Jane Eyre), Philip Correia (Doctors, The History Boys) and Jonathan Guy Lewis (Coronation Street,Soldier Soldier).
Jonathan Guy Lewis recently took time out to answer a few questions about The Herbal Bed.
You are in Peter Whelan’s The Herbal Bed. What attracted you to be a part of this particular production?
I have been wanting to work on something with James for a couple of years, so that was a big attraction. Also, it is a wonderful play. As soon as I read it I knew I wanted to be in it. I like Peter Whelan’s work. He is a terrific writer. And it’s close enough to London and touring to some nice places.
Last year I played the role of Eddie Carbone in A View From The Bridge alongside Theresa Banham as Beatrice. Theresa had played the part of Susanna Hall in the original production of The Herbal Bed. She spoke about how much the play had meant to her. So it seemed to be just one of those things that was destined to be.
What can you tell us about your character John Hall?
He’s a very interesting man who finds himself in a difficult situation. He’s a Puritan and a good man. His moral compass is very strong. He’s committed to his work of healing people.
He isn’t in a loveless marriage, but it isn’t a passionate one. It’s more of a companionship. During the course of the play he is really put under a lot of stress. He has to face up to the fact that his wife has maybe not technically slept with someone else but has transgressed with another man who is a friend of his. If it is proven that this is the case then his reputation as a doctor is in tatters.
So he has to conquer he own moral position in order to play the longer game, and has to uphold a lie. His wife is slandered by his apprentice who is a bit of a reprobate and in a drunken rage says that John Hall’s wife has venereal disease and that she has slept with Rafe Smith. So he has to fight that and it is a very interesting journey that he goes on.
What do you enjoy most about playing a role in a period piece?
Although the play is set in Elizabethan and Jacobean times the language is of now. Peter Whelan has done a very interesting thing with the language. It feels very modern but also in the time it was set. The play was written in the mid to late 1990s in response to the debate between public lives and private lives and the intrusion of the press into people’s lives.
When I read it, it is a page turner. You absolutely want to know what is going to happen next. The play keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.
As a period piece it has been lovingly done by the designers. It is very authentic.
The Herbal Bed is on at the Royal & Derngate in February, before going on a national tour. What do you like most about touring?
I wouldn’t say touring is my favourite thing. You have to find somewhere to live every week, finding somewhere new. I am looking forward to going to a couple of places. I went to university in Exeter so I am looking forward to going to the Northcott Theatre there.
Why should everyone get along to see The Herbal Bed?
I think that it’s a terrific play. A really classy production that James has done a really good job with. It’s very accessible, very entertaining, stimulating and magical. It also has something important to say about then and now. It has a lot going for it.
What next for you after The Herbal Bed?
I am directing a play called Anything That Flies at Jermyn Street Theatre. That opens in June.
Jonathan Guy Lewis plays John. His theatre credits include An Inspector Calls (Aldwych Theatre), A Few Good Men(Haymarket Theatre), Elephants (Hampstead Theatre), I Found My Horn (Trafalgar Studios and Hampstead Theatre), Alphabetical Order and Speaking In Tongues (Hampstead Theatre), Green Wash, Mountain Hotel, Protestand Myth, Propaganda & Disaster (Orange Tree Theatre), I Found My Horn and My First Trainers (Tristan Bates/Orange Tree/Chichester/Hampstead Theatre), A View From The Bridge (The Touring Consortium Theatre Company), A Comedy Of Arias (Pleasance/New Ambassadors), Exclude Me (Chelsea Theatre). His television credits include Agatha Raisin, Skins Redux: Rise, Endeavour, I Shouldn’t Be Alive: Blizzard Of Death, Desperados, Vincent, Sea Of Souls, London’s Burning, Peak Practice, Soldier Soldier. His writing credits include Our Boys, A Level Playing Field, I Found My Horn, A Comedy Of Arias, My First Trainers, All Mouth and Pitch Perfect.
The Herbal Bed
Director James Dacre
Writer Peter Whelan
Designer Jonathan Fensom
Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth
Sound Designer Becky Smith
Composer Valgeir Sigurðsson
Casting Directors Gemma Hancock and Sam Stevenson
Staff Director Jesse Jones
Dialect Coach Charmian Hoare
Production Photographer Mark Douet
Fight Director Terry King
Rafe Smith – Philip Correia
Bishop Parry – Patrick Driver
John Hall – Jonathan Guy Lewis
Susanna Hall – Emma Lowndes
Barnabus Goche – Michael Mears
Hester Fletcher – Charlotte Wakefield
Jack Lane – Matt Whitchurch
For further information and tour dates visit the English Touring Theatre website: