The Wild Goose Chase
Venue: White Bear
Where: Inner London
Date Reviewed: 22 June 2011
Average Reader Rating:
Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews
Here is to be found another little gem at this theatre; as part of their Lost Classics programme the ESPlayers, a locally formed company, directed by David Brown, present the first professional run of this Jacobean comedy since the 17th century.
Mirabel and two friends have recently returned from a tour through Italy and have clearly had a good time and are in no mood to settle for marriage, for as Mirabel points out. "What should I marry for? Why should I be a charge to keep a wife of mine own, when other honest married men’s will ease me – and thank me too!" But before leaving he had offered marriage to Oriana, his father’s ward, who is now keen to keep him to his promise.
Written by Shakespeare’s protégé and collaborator, John Fletcher in 1621 its plotline, of marriage and manipulation by smart, scheming and witty women who outwit and outmanoeuvre their male counterparts, was highly influential when the new style of Restoration comedy emerged after 20 years of theatre closures.
The decision to set the production in what appears to be the early 20th C and English costumes loses some of the flavour of the original which was set in Paris, and Nik Drake’s Mirabel lacks a little of the panache of this flamboyant and charismatic character; however his sidekicks, Danny Wainwright as Pinac and Edward Cartwright as Belleur are a superb double act whose personas are equally matched by the two young marriageable daughters, who set out too tame them, Kerry Wotoon as the outgoing Rosalura and Joanna Nuttall’s intriguing and transformational Lillia Bianca, whose stage presence is commanding.
Whilst the main characters play it straight and for real, it seems that the low comedy characters are played as two dimensional caricatures who have escaped from pantoland, the slightly spiv like servant and the weird tutor, here played by Jackie Skarvellis as an over the top female gypsy-like Svengali with a non identifiable eastern European accent contrast stylistically wit the rest of the production.
James Sheppard’s simple set with its white boxes works well and the musical interludes add atmosphere, except when played too loudly behind dialogue. The dialogue, rich in humour and ironic wit, engages the audience fully as the plot gets more and more incredible; but as to whose side you are on is left to you in this engaging and entertaining exploration of a hidden gem.
- Dave Jordan
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 June.
Rough-hewn at times, but a rare chance to see once-popular play.
In his final years in the theatre William Shakespeare collaborated with John Fletcher, 15 years his junior and playwriting’s new star. Fletcher also collaborated with Francis Beaumont, and, as here, wrote plays solo. A fashionable writer, fashion effectively killed him, when he stayed in London to be measured for a new suit as plague erupted in 1625.
This comedy of the sexes nearly escaped the capture experienced by Mirabell, the ‘wild goose’ of the title. The sole copy was borrowed and not returned in time for the collected edition of Fletcher’s plays, being added in 1652, 31 years after its first performance.
While loving Oriana waits for him in Paris, Mirabell, her guardian’s son, has been travelling round Italy with friends. In David Brown’s modern-dress production (on James Sheppard’s games-court set), Ami Sayers sits lovingly by Mirabell’s framed photo, despite warnings from her brother De Gard that she shouldn’t expect too much from the man he’s seen playing away.
Filled-out with the stories of young Pinac and Belleur, who meet a couple of eligible sisters (displayed here on plinths for suitors’ admiration by their mother), the play shows Oriana’s efforts to bring Mirabell back to the marriage promise he’d earlier made her.
Given his cavalier attitude to women, it takes some doing, involving stratagems to invoke jealousy, pity and avarice. Finally, her pose as a rich Italian widow (surrounded by designer shopping bags) works the trick.
Meanwhile, his friends Pinac and Belleur find themselves surprised by Rosalaura’s shift from seductive to serious, and Lillia Bianca’s change from studious to fun-loving, as their natures are liberated from the training of Lugier (a whip-carrying Jackie Skarvellis - though making the role female dents the theme of women freeing themselves from male control). Belleur tries to act tough but crumbles when mocked. In a further trick, a courtesan’s introduced to pose as a fine lady.
Oriana and the other women are active and purposeful in the plot; Sayers ensuring Oriana is the play’s heart. Among some rough-edged, over-fussy playing Nik Drake’s Mirabell rings true and clear as the wild goose flying, then caught.
The Wild Goose Chase
By John Fletcher (1621)
The White Bear Theatre
Review by Anita Butler (2011)
John Fletcher was a Stuart dramatist in the reign of James the First, collaborating with Francis Beaumont and, perhaps more famously today, with William Shakespeare, playing the young bow to the bard's ageing violin on Henry VIII (All is True) and The Two Noble Kinsmen.
But Fletcher was a playwright in his own right, and it is thanks to The White Bear's brave persistence in restoring lost classics to the stage (such as The Yorkshire Tragedy recently) that we are able to see The Wild Goose Chase performed for the first time since the 1700s.
First published in the early 1600's (the 1652 text is used here), the plot revolves around those early modern staples where cocky young men of a certain class return from their travels (here, Paris) having sown their wild oats and are now ready to settle down.
In the sixteenth-century, the phrase "wild good chase" meant not a fruitless quest, but following a chosen leader (the "goose") along their chosen path; and the leader here is Mirabell, a cad played with nasty relish by Nik Drake, who encourages his malleable friends Pinac and Belleur (Danny Wainwright and Edward Cartwright - fine comedians, both) to spurn convention, avoid marriage and treat women as unfeeling, brainless chattels.
This play's refreshing humour lies in the fact that the women will have none of it and are determined to gain the upper hand through their own particular machinations. Beneath the surface, a fear of the power women can wield over men is palpable.
Kerry Wotton and Joanna Nuttall are particularly strong as Rosalura and Lillia Bianca: assisted by their dapper and exotic tutor Lugier (Jackie Skarvellis), the sisters plot and scheme to ensure that young Oriana (Ami Sayers) is able to tame Mirabel's 'wild goose' (with whom she is sick in love), while taming their own potential beloveds in the process.
This production offers a chance to experience a play as an original audience might have done, in that (unlike, say, Much Ado) most of us will come to it "cold", with no prior knowledge of plot or characterization, and it is here that Fletcher's craft as a playwright shines through.
However the plot of The Wild Goose Chase is easy to follow, characters well developed, and nods to the twenty-first century - modern dress, mobiles, i-pods, a smidgeon of Britney Spears - add to, rather than detract from, the play's charm.
Director David Brown and his talented team are to be applauded, offering a rare chance to see something rare: a two-hour comedy that is actually very funny indeed.