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May Day at Cecil Sharp House, London | Review

May DayAll five acts of a seventeenth-century play without an interval? This production of May Day works well, though, kept to a comfortable 80 minutes or thereabouts, thanks to some editing. A fuller version might have pleased purists of plays from previous generations better, but I suspect this abridged version makes for better theatre. I can only ‘suspect’, not having seen any other production of May Day before: indeed, the publicity for this production claims it is being “revived for the first time in over a hundred years”.

A world so far removed from the one we live in now makes the parallels that could be drawn from the play’s proceedings quite vivid. Lorenzo (Rex Melville) opens the show, waxing lyrical with what came across to me as a stream of consciousness. He appeared distracted with a lot of things on his mind, and, as ever, what love does to people is sometimes more than a little strange. To maximise comedy value, Melville plays his character with an air of exaggeration. Someone in the row in front of mine gave the couple next to me a disparaging look as they chortled away, thinking they were being disrespectful. They were not. They were simply laughing at something that was supposed to be amusing.

The well to do accent wasn’t quite received pronunciation – it was, at least to me, like the modulated tones of the late art critic Brian Sewell. In trying to sound posh, it sounded like he was trying too hard (the character, not the actor). It is of note that George Chapman (c. 1559-1634), who wrote the play, keeps far more dialogue in prose than in verse, and even Lorenzo’s poetry is not great, intentionally so on the playwright’s part for the purposes of the narrative. Angelo (Ross Martin) indulges the older man, albeit reluctantly; Lorenzo, oblivious to the absurdity of what he wishes to achieve, puts his trust in the younger man, but the latter later teams up with Lodovica (Charlotte Nice), the older man’s niece (assuming I have worked that out correctly) to put Lorenzo in his place, so to speak.

The problem is that Lorenzo wishes his daughter Amelia (Jodie Bennet) to marry an off-stage character, Gasparro. Gasparro is a man of good fortune but a) other characters speak disparagingly of him, to good if slightly cruel comic effect, and b) Amelia simply does not love him. Instead, she wants to marry Aureliano (Owain Gunn) – the pair are besotted with one another, and other characters go to some lengths to see to it that they can continue with their relationship despite Lorenzo’s disapproval.

Who else is there? Lucretia (Abigail Clay) remained something of an enigma to me. All I could work out was that she knows Aureliano, and that there’s a joke in the play about Lucretia being disguised as Lucretia, though I’ve no idea what the differences between the two Lucretias are. Francesca (Jacqueline Milne) is married to Quintaliano (Thomas Schnessche). Quintaliano is a captain (of what, I couldn’t quite work out) who seems to spend his time accumulating wealth by both carrot and stick, swindling with one hand whilst finding any excuse he can conjure up to avoid paying his creditors. The production makes up for a lack of actors to play Quintaliano’s victims by indulging in audience participation: as with stand-up comedy, in this comedy play, one sits in the front row at one’s own risk.

The costumes do not always befit the period, and the storyline has, in parts at least, surprising relevance in contemporary society. Aside from that, it’s a lot of fun, and while some characters are stereotypes, that does not detract from an enjoyable performance.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

In fair Venice where we lay our scene, but unlike Verona, it’s not blood that’s making civil hands unclean. Two and a half pairs of star-crossed lovers send out an SOS for help, but when the schemes of three matchmakers collide, not everyone’s ship can be saved.

Written by Shakespeare’s rival George Chapman in 1611, this comedic Elizabethan masterpiece has not had a major revival in over 100 years. Addressing issues of generational conflict and social taboo in the pursuit in of romance, Chapman’s work comes across as surprisingly modern showing how little we have changed in the past 400 years, and how we will never cease to laugh at our own foolishness.

Puddle Jump productions was founded in 2017 by Daniel Austin-Boyd. This will be their third production in London, and their second revival of an underperformed classic after a successful run of August Strindberg’s “Pariah” at the Bridewell Theatre in March. Daniel Austin-Boyd graduated the MA Theatre Directing program at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in 2017, and has also directed several productions back in his native Canada in Montreal and Toronto.

Show taking place at Cecil Sharp House
Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent’s Park Road, LONDON NW1 7AY

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