Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Herbal Bed

I generally only go to the theatre at weekends, but I had to exchange my ticket for 'The Herbal Bed' to Wednesday night, as I can't go on Friday night.

It is an interesting play. It's based on a true incident in the life of William Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna Hall, who, in 1613 was accused of adultery with a neighbour, Rafe Smith, and successfully sued her accuser, Jack Lane, for slander.

The play portrays Susanna (Emma Lowndes)  as a passionate, intelligent and educated woman, respecting but not loving her physician husband, with Jack Lane portrayed as her husband's young (and immature) student,  Rafe Smith (Philip Correia )  as a friend and neighbour, mourning the loss of his children, and the resulting disintegration of his relationship with his wife, and John Hall (Jonathan Guy Lewis)  as a man dedicated to his profession, and apparently less aware of his wife's needs and desires.

According to the play, Susanna and Rafe are not, technically guilty of adultery, but only through luck.

Jack is a somewhat pathetic character, his accusations made, it appears, out of jealousy (Susanna having not only rejected his advances to her, but also made him apologise to her maidservant for his unwanted advances to her, too) 

The second half of the play is darker. With Lane refusing to publicly retract his allegations, the Halls find themselves having to take their case to trial at Worcester cathedral, where they face uncomfortable questioning - Smith and Susanna aware of their own guilty desires, and Hall aware of this, but determined, whether for the sake of his practice, or his family's reputation, to pursue the claim .

The questioner, Barnabus Goche (Michael Mears) is the least attractive character, motivated, it appears, by religious zeal, to sift to the bottom the case brought befpore him, notwithstanding the non-appearance of the defendant, and the claimants' unwillingness to pursue further.

I enjoyed the evening - the play was interesting, and the cast good, but the whole thing didn't quite work for me - I would have liked to see more development of John Hall's character, for instance.

But worth seeing, for all that!

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