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Review of Foul Pages at The Hope Theatre London

Foul Pages
Foul Pages at The Hope Theatre

There’s a debate about what Will (Ian Hallard) should call his next play, or rather a reworking of an already published play, written with the specific purpose of hopefully preventing Sir Walter Raleigh (here in Foul Pages rightly or wrongly reduced to an off-stage character), from execution, as it will be, in this new version, performed before the King. There has been an alleged conspiracy to remove King James I (Tom Vanson) from the English throne, which Raleigh and Sir George Brooke were said to have had significant involvement in. It is eventually decided that the play should be called As You Like It – no prizes for guessing Will’s surname.

There’s a need to go with the flow in this production. One would have thought, for example, the King would have more pressing affairs of state to deal with, but an apparent predilection to have friends with benefits (don’t ask) has led His Majesty to insist that Rob (Thomas Bird) takes on the leading role of Rosalind. Will’s preferred choice, Alex (Lewis Chandler), with whom Will has been rehearsing the role, finds himself sidelined. There’s an almighty strop, which would be laughable had it not come attached to a complete failure on Alex’s part to understand the implications of disobeying a royal command.

Chop (James King), is such an observant dog that he comes across as the sanest character of them all, though his many asides and observations to the audience reminded me of Brian Griffin, the talking canine in the animated comedy television series Family Guy. Mary, Countess of Pembroke (Clare Bloomer), by this point widow to Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, oversees Wilton House, the venue for the new play, with the assistance of her maid Peg (Olivia Onyehara). It’s likely that there were more servants – but there’s more of a focus on the play within the play rather than who is doing what household duties.

The music accompanying some of the scene changes, works well, as does the strobe lighting, both used sparingly but effectively. It absolutely isn’t the sort of music that would be reasonably associated with the early seventeenth-century, but the upbeat tempo complements the show’s vibrancy. The scene changes themselves are done quite brilliantly and smoothly, and the humour is delightful but becomes a tad repetitive. There are no stand-out performances to report, which is no bad thing in a cast who are all equally strong.

No prior knowledge of As You Like It is required to follow what goes on – as to how that play could have saved Raleigh’s life, I couldn’t possibly say. Some of the subplots, while feasible, provide little (if any) added value to the show. This is partly drama about drama, in its exploration of what goes on in the rehearsal period and, on opening night, backstage. It is also very silly, but at least it knows it is, and if you’re up for some bawdy irreverence tinged with some quarrelling and a bit of politics, then this is a show worth seeing.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Full of scandalous secrets, backstage betrayals and lusty liaisons, this fruity farce is set against the 1603 backdrop of plague ravaged London and the delayed coronation of the soon to be King James I. FOUL PAGES tells the
story of the first production of As You Like It. Political intrigue, lusty, gay liaisons and backstage betrayals combine with theatrically explosive results. You think you know your Shakespeare?… Think again!

by Robin Hooper
20 Feb – 17 Mar 2018


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