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The Shoemaker’s Holiday, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK — review
From the Financial Times of Mon, 22 Dec 2014 17:48:23 GMT
‘The Shoemaker’s Holiday’ with, from left, Joel McCormack, David Troughton and Michael Hodgson©Alastair Muir

‘The Shoemaker’s Holiday’ with, from left, Joel McCormack, David Troughton and Michael Hodgson

Cicely Bumtrinket. It seemed as well to open the review with a joke (the name of a very minor and unsurprisingly flatulent character), since there seem to be precious few others in Thomas Dekker’s 1599 “city comedy” and even fewer in Philip Breen’s RSC revival of it. Granted, at that time “comedy” simply meant a play with a happy ending, and granted too there is a deal of surreptitious mickey-taking of Shakespeare’s Henry V, which may well have been playing at the Globe when Dekker’s play first opened literally a stone’s throw away at the Rose. Even so, the chuckles are all but rationed.

It is one thing to respond to Shakespeare’s whitewashed account of the battle of Agincourt by bringing journeyman shoemaker Ralph back home from France lame, as Dekker did; another to add a disfiguring facial injury, as Breen does . . .  although this intensifies his wife’s choice to reunite with him rather than accept the blandishments and bribes of a well-off suitor. It is one thing to downplay the ebullience of master shoemaker Simon Eyre; actor David Troughton is equally accomplished in straight and comic roles. But when his bellowing at his wife begins to feel plain abusive rather than inventive, and we have seen little real evidence of “mad Simon” to justify the King’s benign disposition towards him in the last act, a principal strand of the dramatic fabric is lost.

Troughton spends most of the second half being upstaged not simply by Vivien Parry as his wife putting on airs and graces as the new Lady Mayoress of London, but even by the absurd farthingale she wears beneath her glad-rags. Between them, Parry’s get-up and the cod-Dutch accent affected by Josh O’Connor (when his character adopts a disguise to be near his beloved) account for around 80 per cent of the laughs.

Dekker is far from a minor playwright of the period, but when a play such as this strikes a tone bewildering to a contemporary audience, and a production like Breen’s focuses on that unfamiliarity and heightens our puzzlement still further, it can be hard to resist cracking the obvious gag involving the term “cobblers”.

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