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A CurtainUp London Review
The Knight of the Burning Pestle
With an early depiction of a producer, Grocer citizen (Phil Daniels) and his wife (Pauline McLynn) interfere with and disrupt the play, substituting their own ideas for the plot and their own lanky son Rafe (Matthew Needham) as the hero of the piece. The result is a sort of elaborate Jacobean devised performance starring the initially very self conscious Rafe who is strong armed off to Costume to get attired.
This makes for a delightfully anarchic production as the wife of the grocer of The Strand Nell tours the first few rows in the Pit offering her candies out of a brown paper bag to members of the audience. We feel sure that if she had a mobile phone she'd be taking pictures and indulging in other theatre activities frowned upon by a normally serious audience.
So the grocer and his wife frame the five act play onstage about a merchant Venturewell (John Dougall) who is encouraging the head to toe clad in foppish baby pink, Humphrey (Dickon Tyrrell) as suitor for his daughter Luce (Sarah MacRae). In a cringe squirming moment, Humphrey produces the gift for Luce of a pair of fine gloves from the slit in the crotch of his voluminous pink breeches. We meet the Merrythought family. Mistess Merrythought (Hannah McPake) and her drink addled husband Merrythought, a scarlet faced and red bearded Paul Rider and her two children, the younger favoured by his mother, puppy Michael (Giles Cooper in a delicious red curly wig with little high stepping, running legs as he tries to keep up like a toddler with his mother) and the elder, favoured by his father, Jasper (Alex Waldmann). With the introduction of the Merrythoughts we are straight into early 17th century pantomime.
Director Adele Thomas has some thrilling staged chases and fights, much thumping and whacking, with combatants appearing at every door on the first balcony level. Merrythought has many of the songs clad in his ivy headdress, antlers and pale green and grubby onesy like a Druid tree worshipper. He is joined by the cast similarly dressed and in masks, red hair and beards with strangely swirling arms and hands. The nine foot giant Barbarossa is defeated and the bearded princess of Moldovia wooed and rejected. The ghost of Jasper will visit the Merchant and send the metal plates and goblets clanging off the laid table in the middle of a noisy thunderstorm. We see son of grocer Rafe grow in confidence over the course of the play. The super costumes at The Globe are state of the art here designed by Hannah Clark.
Running at three hours, there is magnificent clowning from Tim (Dennis Herdman) and George (Dean Nolan) but the ensemble cast all work very hard in this physical comedy. Pauline McLynn and Phil Daniels are real comedy stars as she gets really involved with her plot and he panders to his wife's every whim. In the pretty indoor space, similar to the Blackfriars Playhouse where The Knight of the Burning Pestle was first played by the company, The Children of the Queen's Revels, we get a flavour of what a Jacobean audience might have experienced. This stuffed-full production is well sold but there is every hope it may reappear on the larger outdoor stage. "Nutmegs and ginger, cinnamon and cloves, they gave me this jolly red nose," Merrythought.
For Charlotte Loveridge's review at the Barbican in 2005 of a very different production of this play
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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