"the gross and scope of my opinion ..." Hamlet I,1.
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
THE SECRET THEATRE
Globe at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
last season’s Wonder Noir White Devil, this atmospheric production
opens in complete darkness, and the tale of deception and
surveillance is intimately lit by hand-held candles and oblique
winter daylight from the Playhouse windows.
design ingeniously suggests the spymaster’s trade, with built-in
concealed filing cabinets and a round window - between the obscured
musicians’ galleries – framing eavesdroppers and a lovely London
Lustgarten’s new piece tells of a nation divided, with the whiff of
treason mixed with the candle smoke, the threat of terror and a
hostile Europe over the Channel. This is 1585, and a nervous,
vindictive Queen, is forced to rely on the powers of darkness to deal
with her perceived enemies.
no shortage of contemporary resonances; we hardly need the
crowd-pleasing comments about the tennis. We see the dark arts
practised here not by spin doctors and civil servants but by the
spymasters Cecil [Ian Redford] and, chiefly, Walsingham. Vague
threats are embellished, double agents are rife, dissent spreads from
the highest to the lowest in the land.
playwright is at pains to emphasise the relevance to our own day; we
have inherited, he maintains, the system of surveillance set up in
sixteenth century London - “an apparatus of security which will
never be dismantled”.
McArdle is Walsingham, a quietly determined man, racked by illness at
the end, rising, like Mantel’s Crum, from comparatively humble
origins to be the power behind the throne, emerging black-clad and
menacing from the darkness. Tara Fitzgerald, a strong presence in
richly ornate gowns, white-faced, is an arrogant, often earthy woman
in this version of history, while the torturer Topcliffe is given an
even less likely persona, semi-literate sadist combining his
“interrogation” of Robert Southwell [Sam Marks] with take-away
chicken and musings on the Queen’s quim. In fact Topcliffe was an
educated landowner and MP, whose association with Cecil and
Walsingham is not supported by any historical record.
fine performance by Cassie Layton as Walsingham’s daughter,
Frances, whose eventful life is usually confined to the footnotes of
history, and might well be deemed worthy of a drama of her own ...