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Arden of Faversham: Sardines Review

Arden of Faversham: Sardines Review

“The cast all gave outstanding performances.”

Original Article by Cheryl Barrett, Sardines Review – Saturday 4 April 2015

A member of the British Little Theatre Guild (LTG), the Playhouse Theatre in Whitstable staged the 16th Century play Arden of Faversham.

Arden of Faversham depicts the true story of the murder of Thomas Arden by his wife Alice Arden and her lover, Richard Mosby. Written around the 1590s the author is unknown, however the play has been attributed to playwrights of the time, Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Depicted as a black comedy, Arden of Faversham, explores the timeless themes of lust, greed, passion, infidelity, murder, jealousy and incompetence.

Director Peter Bressington sets Arden of Faversham in the present day, this is reflected in the costumes and use of mobile phones, briefcases and other devices. Despite the modern day setting the language is of its day – Elizabethan. It works extremely well. The play focusses on Alice Arden, the scheming wife of merchant Thomas. Together with her lover Mosby, she plots the murder of her wealthy husband, enrolling the help of others along the way.

The cast all gave outstanding performances. In particular Lucie Nash carried off the part of Alice perfectly, moving from sexy seductress to engage her lover, to that of devious calculating murderer as she plots to kill her husband – her duplicitous nature was quite chilling at times yet Nash was compelling to watch. Roy Drinkwater as her husband, Thomas Arden, gave a measured performance throughout. Alfie Merritt as the lover, Mosby, did the part full justice. On a couple of occasions I wondered what Alice saw in Mosby as his affection for her blew hot and cold, however they did have one or two passionate moments.

Two of the most engaging performances were those of Dan Coles as Black Will and Emma Thomas as Shakebag. The comedy came thick and fast as they proved totally incompetent in their attempts to murder Arden. Inspired casting by Peter Bressington – especially casting a female as part of this dynamic duo. Their very realistic fight scene, complete with convincing injuries and bloody nose, worked well and contrasted wonderfully with the slap, slap, tap ‘fight’ of Michael and Clarke, played by Russell Sutton and Keith Holness respectively.

Director Peter Bressington ensured that the pace and movement of characters was maintained, both on stage, through the auditorium and reflected in the shadows on the back screen. The audience were totally engaged with the story and connection was deep as a result.

The twenty changes of scene during the five acts were effortless and swift, ensuring the flow of action throughout. Director Peter Bressington wanted to get closer to Arden’s character and enhance the fast moving nature of the play, in order to do this he cut words, lines and restructured the play slightly. The summary of the plotter’s tale was moved from the end to the beginning of the play and presented as a tv news cast complete with outdoor broadcast reporter. This was an inspired move. The BBC style newscast was set at the actual house that the Ardens lived at in Faversham. The BBC newscast had tickertape headlines running along the bottom of the screen and the starting time 19.49 coincided with the start time of the play. The screen then lifted to reveal scene one.

I loved the staging of this play. The simplistic set was functional and worked extremely well with inspired use of video footage, lighting and sound effects to convey time, place and atmosphere. For the most part the set consisted of a silver table and silver chairs placed centre stage, around which most of the action took place. This was against a stark backdrop of white polythene walls – like those in a crime scene. The lighting team did a great job of evoking a sense of place as Abbey windows, St Pauls Cathedral, winter scenes and disco lights were projected onto this backdrop. The sound effects were very atmospheric with birdsong to denote morning and the sound of water lapping against the shore during the coastal scenes with the ferryman. Costumes were well suited to and defined the characters – from the silk housecoat worn by seductress Alice, to the Goth/Punk attire worn by Black Will and Shakebag. The murder scene was realistic with blood spurting out. It was quite evident that a lot of time and effort had gone into the finer details of this production. Congratulations to everyone involved.

This production has been chosen by The Royal Shakespeare Company as one of their plays in the Open Stages Project, and is also entered in the Kent Drama Association Full Length Play Festival 2015.

Photograph by Tim Hinchliffe