Following their highly praised Measure by Measure, performed at The Barbican in 2015, Cheek by Jowl return for four days only with their interpretation of Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle. And it’s a freshly modern, polemic and truly hilarious show that proves that farce can be classy and relevant.
The plot of the original meta-drama follows the performance of another play called ‘The London Merchant’. However, a couple of audience members interrupt the actors from the very beginning, questioning their acting, costumes, storyline and demanding a different kind of show. So, we follow two plays performed in turns on the same stage: the original one, The London Merchant, and the new one, created on the spot by our intruders demands, The Knight of the Burning Pestle. Interestingly, the members of the audience actively participate in the action, taking sides, expressing their opinions, not always differing imaginary characters from real people, and in this way create a lot of dramatic and funny moments. They actively intervene in both plays, trying to make the show enjoyable and entertaining by their own standards.
From the first moment, when the fourth wall between the actors on stage and the audience in the room is broken, we follow not only the development of two different plots, but also the discussion about the role of the audience in art perception, the authority of the artists, and the purpose of the modern theatre at all. While the intervening members of the audience look like a provincials and often show their poor manners and educational gaps, we still feel that they have some justice on their side: they paid for the tickets, their money is what pays for the actors’ work, and in this sense, they deserve to see the show they want. However, the question is whether the artists have some creative freedom and whether conceptual art has the right to exist. Nowadays, the questions about the role of the art and the position of the artist are actively discussed in the media. And this play sounds very relevant to these debates.
While working with a classic comedy from the early 17th century, Cheek by Jowl’s interpretation is incredibly modern in everything from set design and usage of multimedia, to the 21st-century additions like mobile phones, references to abstract theatre, feminism and even Brexit. The play develops rapidly and the great cast makes 1 hour 40 minutes feel like a mere moment. This show makes you feel good and I could not stop smiling during the whole performance and all evening after.
If you want to see a classic farce show but in a modern and witty version, don’t miss The Knight of the Burning Pestle at Barbican. It runs in London from 5 to 8 June, and later will be performed in Moscow, Madrid, Gdansk and Toulouse.