THE SHOEMAKER’S HOLIDAY
The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 23rd December, 2014
Thomas Dekker’s 1599 comedy makes for an entertaining alternative to traditional festive fare. A prologue, staged with wit and brio, states that the play is ‘naught but mirth’ and right from the off, you know you’re in for a good time.
However, there is more to the piece than funny caricature and satirical humour. There are also poignant, touching moments and high drama. Poor Jane (Hedydd Dylan) seems to be a role comprised almost entirely of tears and heartbreak. Husband Ralph is sent off to war and is later presumed dead. He (Daniel Boyd) returns, crippled and disfigured, in time to prevent Jane’s marriage to slimeball Hammon (Jamie Wilkes).
At the heart of the show is a sparkling performance from David Troughton, exuding goodwill and bonhomie as shoemaker and social climber Simon Eyre, accompanied by his grotesque wife Margery – an hilarious turn from Vivien Parry, evoking the best of Julie Walters.
Joel MacCormack is the spirited and likeable cheeky chappie, Firk, bringing energy to his scenes. Josh O’Connor’s young Lacy is also good fun, disguised as a Dutchman, in a credible comic performance, light years away from the mock-the-foreigner excesses of Allo Allo. I loved the quiet strength of Michael Hodgson’s Hodge – the decency of the working man wrapped up in some neat touches of physical comedy.
There is a wealth of bawdy humour – even a flatulent character revelling in the name of Cicely Bumtrinket – but even in their vulgarity, we are drawn to the characters’ humanity. The play celebrates the lower orders rather than holding them up for ridicule and censure
Sandy Foster’s Sybil is a force to be reckoned with – indeed this could be said of the entire company. The stage is alive with energy. Young boy William Watson looks perfectly at home with his elders – I doubt anyone gets better performances from child actors than the RSC.
Director Phillip Breen handles the subplots with the dexterity of a master chef keeping several pots on the boil at once and I think the clarity of the production and its language owes a great deal to designer Max Jones. Somehow the period costumes (all of them fabulous) convey the world of the play and assist our understanding in a way you don’t get when productions are translated to anachronistic times and other places.
Jack Holden’s King is more than a deus ex machina who shows up to bring resolution. Holden makes a striking impression in a fully realised characterisation that is both funny and elegant, and he barely has to flex a regal muscle to remind us who is in charge in a chilling display of power.
Enjoy your days off and celebrate while you can, the play says. There are forces out there that govern the way the lives of ordinary people turn out in order to further their own interests.