BWW Reviews: FAIR EM, Union Theatre, January 10 2013
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by Gary Naylor
What's this? A new Shakespeare 400 years and 400 yards from where the bewitching baldy beardy trod the boards? Why wasn't I told? Well, it's not a newly discovered piece from the quill of Shakey, but it was once attributed to him and it's easy to see why. There's the historical setting, the disguises and mistaken identities and, come the resolution, a rather more satisfactory conclusion than we get in The Taming of the Shrew. Most of all, as adapted and directed by Phil Willmott, there's lots and lots of fun!
William the Conqueror (Jack Taylor channeling Sid James) takes a shine to the daughter of the Danish King (Gordon Winter channeling Brian Blessed) but, on arrival in Jutland, finds that the Danish Princess Blanche (Madeline Gould channeling Patsy Rowland) is not to his liking at all, and that the Swedish Princess Mariana (Alys Metcalf channeling Sally Geeson) is much more the ticket. But she loves another... Oh yes she does! Meanwhile, Fair Em herself (Caroline Haines channeling Adrienne Posta) is hiding out from the Norman hordes as a mill girl with her father (James Horne channeling Terry Scott) and his miller (Robert Donald Channeling Charlie Hawtrey). Fair Em is not called Fair for nothing, and soon she has caught the eye of a locAl Knight or three, who vie for her affections. But she has other ideas...
Anyway, it's all the most enormous fun, with singing, dancing, slapstick and a pantoesque breaking of the fourth wall in favour of a chamber pot. Even the villains are quite decent really, with only David Ellis' Manville getting a rough deal (and one thoroughly deserved, the cad!) The cast appear to love every second of it and, if the lines don't quite have Shakespeare's poetry embedded within them, the laughs come quicker and louder.
The text is reproduced in a beautifully rendered paperback book which includes a short essay from Mr Willmott in which he rejoices in the freedom offered by fringe theatre. If he and his cast and creatives enjoy that freedom, then so do we with unexpected gems like this to watch. London's theatre is off to a flying start in 2013.
Photo Scott Rylander