Taking a somewhat saucy look at 15th Century history, Robin Hooper’s new play, Foul Pages, makes its world premiere at the Hope Theatre under the direction of Matthew Parker. Making the most of Shakespearian melodrama, the play, which has one of the largest casts to perform at The Hope, presents an imagined behind the scenes look of the first performance of ‘As You Like It’.
King James (Tom Vanson) is taking refuge at Wilton to escape a plague-ridden London. The Lady of the House, Mary, Countess of Pembroke (Clare Bloomer) hopes to convince the impetuous James to save her beloved Walter Raleigh from execution. To aid her plea, she employs the services of Will Shakespeare, and his troupe of travelling actors to perform a new play for the King.
While the Countess continually meddles in the writing of the play, threatening to turn ‘As You Like It’ in to ‘As You Do’, the actors are having a truly fabulous time, usually in the arms of each other. Soon the promiscuous James takes a shine to the actor Rob and insists he is cast in a starring role, which leads to all sorts of backstage back-stabbing.
At ninety minutes straight through, Matthew Parker has ensured Foul Pages keeps the pace. The scenes are interrupted by short blasts of techno music and colourful lighting, giving the historic plot a more modern vibe.
Ian Hallard strikes an impressive tone as Will Shakespeare, although the character takes more of a back seat than might be imagined. As the King’s new plaything, Thomas Bird opens up the character of Rob to allow the audience a deeper insight.
Lewis Chandler is particularly strong as Alex, the character required to deliver the most emotional range. Surprisingly, the most enjoyable performance comes from James King, playing Chop the dog. His movement around the stage, and continual panting brought a good few laughs, while his direct to audience narration helped keep the whole thing in context.
With several intertwining plot lines, Robin Hooper’s Foul Pages seems to shoot off in several directions at once, but usually manages to bring it back to the matter at hand. With plenty of comedic moments, as well as some more serious interludes, this production looks bigger than its stage should allow, and keeps its audience firmly entertained.