Thursday, 26 April 2007

Extreme Bawdry in Adelaide

The Custom of the Country
By John Fletcher and Philip Massinger

A moved playreading
Directed by Alexander Kirk
Original music by Alexander Mitchell
University of Adelaide Theatre Guild

A rare theatrical treat!

June 7 & 8

This production of The Custom of the Country continues our exploration of the byways of 17th and early 18th century theatre, which began in 2005 with Susanna Centlivre's The Wonder and continued in 2006 with Edward Ravenscroft's The London Cuckolds.

Jacobean tragicomedy is famous for the surprising turns its various actions can take, and The Custom of the Country is no exception.

The newly married Arnoldo and Zenocia, to prevent Count Clodio exercising his droit de seigneur on their wedding night, flee their Italian city along with Arnoldo's brother, Rutilio. The scene shifts to Lisbon when their boat is captured by the Portuguese sea captain, Leopoldo. Then their real troubles begin!

The Custom of the Country is a skilful mixture of tragicomic romance and farcical bawdry in the guise of a chastity play. In the end, chastity and marriage triumph over lechery and lust.

A new music score, to be performed by a vocal and instrumental chamber ensemble conducted by the composer, is being specially composed for this production. Composer Alexander Mitchell graduated from the University of Adelaide's Elder Conservatorium in 2005 with First Class Honours in a Bachelor of Music (Composition). He is now completing a Masters and his music for The Custom of the Country forms part of that work.

First performed in 1619, The Custom of the Country was deplored for its bawdiness but continued to delight and shock audiences until the mid-Restoration. It is a rare theatrical treat and our production, we believe, is an Australian premiere.

TWO PERFORMANCES ONLY, on Thursday 7 and Friday 8 June at 7pm in the Little Theatre. All tickets $10.

See for booking info.

[This could be fabulous. The Custom of the Country is a notoriously filthy play (look -- Wikipedia agrees), featuring not only the droit de seigneur alluded to in the title, but also a tremendously funny scene set in a male brothel established for the benefit of ladies and gentlewomen. (Do you get such things with Shakespeare? I think not.) The hero's brother, Rutillio (oh yes), on the run because he thinks that he has murdered the Governor's nephew, is adopted as a "stallion" for the brothel. Being a virile sort of lad, he thinks that all his birthdays and Christmases have come at once: "Bring me a hundred of em: I'le dispatch 'em ... I'le make you young againe, beleeve that Lady. I will so frubbish you" ("frubbish"? Ah -- "frubbish": "To furbish or polish by rubbing" [OED]). Sadly, the next time we see Rutillio, halfway through the next act, he has been -- ahem -- exhausted by the attentions of the ladies and gentlewomen. He enters "in a night-cap", is joined by three ex-employees of the brothel, who enter "with night-caps very faintly", and they all sit around and moan about their aching bones:

Good Gentlemen;
You seem to have a snuffing in your head Sir,
A parlous snuffing, but this same dampish aire---

2[nd Gentleman]. A dampish aire indeed.

Rut[illio]. Blow your face tenderly,
Your nose will ne're endure it: mercy รด me,
What are men change'd to here? is my nose fast yet?
Mee thinks it shakes i'th hilts

And we wonder why Fletcher fell out of favour so radically in the C19th... Project Gutenberg have a text here (apparently from Glover and Waller's early C20th edition of the works of "Beaumont and Fletcher"), if you fancy corrupting your mind and/or morals.]

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Current Favourite Stage Direction...

From John Lyly's The Woman in the Moon, probably written for a children's company c. 1590 and published 1597: ‘She playes the vixen with euery thing about her’.

Sadly, it doesn't mean that the newly-created Pandora has turned into a fox, though stranger things happen in Lyly's plays. Instead, she apparently takes out her anger -- induced, wouldn't you know, by the malign influence of Saturn -- on the frons scenae and any prop within reach. Further stellar SDs come later in the same scene, as she reacts sulkily and violently to the approaches of four unfortunate shepherds: She hits him on the lips ... She strikes his hand ... She thrusts her hands in her pocket ... She winkes and frownes’. Marvellous stuff -- it's easy to forget, amid discussions of Euphuism and allegorical representations of Elizabeth I, just how funny Lyly can be.

AND -- Pandora was once played by none other than Katharine Hepburn (there's a great picture in Leah Scragg's new Revels edition of The Woman in the Moon). UPDATE: Here's the picture, from Bryn Mawr's website:

Sort of Shakespeare

The Washington Shakespeare Company Reading Series

Building on the success of the Bard-37: Canon Cabaret and Greek Alpha - Omega readings series, WSC plans three unique reading series to continue this exciting tradition. ... Starting January 8, 2007, we offer another Shakespeare option in Washington with our Sort of Shakespeare Reading Series, including Shakespeare apocrypha, his contemporaries, and plays inspired by the Bard and his canon.

Feb. 19, 2007 - The Plebians Rehearse the Uprising - Gunter Grass
Directed by Christopher Henley

Feb. 26, 2007 - Two Noble Kinsmen - apocrypha
Directed by Jeremy Fiebig

March 5, 2007 - Fortinbras - Lee Blessing
Directed by Jesse Burgess

April 9, 2007 - A Yorkshire Tragedy - apocrypha
Directed by Paul Tacaks

April 23, 2007 - The Spanish Tragedy - Thomas Kyd
Directed by Clay Hopper

April 25, 2007 - London Prodigal - apocrypha CANCELLED
Directed by Cam Magee

April 30, 2007 - The Herbal Bed - Peter Whelan
Directed by Shirley Serotsky

May 7, 2007 - The White Devil - John Webster
Directed by Ian Armstrong

May 14, 2007 - Great Scenes from Shakespeare - Directed by Gaurav Gopalan

May 21, 2007 - The Witch - Thomas Middleton
Directed by Jose Carrasquillo

June 25, 2007 - Mrs. Kemble’s Tempest - Tom Ziegler
Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner

July 2, 2007 - Measure for Measure - A Comedy, After Shakespeare - Howard Brenton
Directed by Dan van Hoozer

July 9, 2007 - Caesar and Cleopatra - George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Gaurav Gopalan

July 16, 2007 - Romeo and Julius [Caesar] - Jeff Goode
Directed by Serge Sieden

July 23, 2007 - Sir John Oldcastle - apocrypha
Directed by Randy Baker

July 30, 2007 - Lear - Edward Bond
Directed by Stephen Fried

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Liking SAA

Like most people, it seems, I liked SAA this year, especially after the relative misery of RSA. I liked the hummingbirds, I liked the food, I liked the people I hung out with, and I managed to avoid the very few people I didn’t want to see. For a variety of reasons I went to lots of seminars but not very many paper sessions –- though the pedagogy one was a lot of fun. However, I made an effort to get to the plenary, which had papers by three people whose work I admire a lot, and I thought it was great. This is perhaps because if I was forced to categorise what I do it would be as a kind of ‘historical formalism’ (albeit -– hopefully -– one that resists the ‘easy yoking together of those things called “form” and “history”’ that Julian Yates complains about on the Literature Compass Blog), but it was also because each paper was tightly written and engagingly delivered. And any plenary that features pictures of famous trees that probably never existed is fine by me…


  • One eminent scholar saying to another, in hushed and anxious tones, ‘I don’t know if he remembers me…’
  • By a friend, two Rotary Club ladies discussing the SAA:

FIRST ROTARY CLUB LADY: You’ll never guess who all these people are!
FIRST ROTARY CLUB LADY: They’re all academics! And they’re here for a conference ---- about ---- SHAKESPEARE!!!


Saturday, 21 April 2007

Gallathea and Mariam in London

Primavera presents: Forgotten Classics
King's Head, Islington, London

Featuring six outstanding plays rarely - if ever - seen in Britain before, the Primavera Forgotten Classics series at the King’s Head is a unique chance to see the work of some of the world’s finest playwrights. Tom Littler directs full-scale casts of West End actors in rehearsed readings ranging from Elizabethan comedy to Romantic drama, including the first play ever written in English by a woman and Charles Dickens’s only stage work.

by John Lyly
Written and last performed in London 1594

A blockbuster hit in its own time, GALLATHEA is the source for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night: a comic drama of sexual identity and confusion. In a wood, three hunters seek the love of three beautiful nymphs, who will do anything to stay chaste. Meanwhile, two maidens run into the wood to escape a virgin sacrifice demanded in the town - but one of the girls is disguised as a young man... One of the outstanding comedies of the age.
8pm, Sunday 13 May

by Elizabeth Cary
Written 1613. World Premiere

The first play written in English by a woman. Elizabeth Cary’s explosive ‘closet drama’ provides a new, feminist viewpoint on the Biblical household of King Herod and the infamous Salome. The conflict between Mariam, descendant of the rightful Jewish ruler, and Herod, her Roman-appointed husband, resonates powerfully in the charged atmosphere of the Middle East today.
8pm, Sunday 22 July

Please call the Box Office on 020 7226 1916 to reserve tickets or email: Online booking also available:

[I'm not sure about the claims of world premieres or first performances since 1594 -- haven't there been numerous productions of Mariam in universities in recent years? And surely someone somewhere has done Gallathea in the last 400 years... But great to see these plays getting an outing with professional casts nonetheless.]