Thursday, 8 March 2018

Thou nature art my goddess… Foul Pages, The Hope Theatre

It’s Oscars week and Call Me by Your Name was deservedly nominated among the best pictures and best performances. It’s a film about falling in love and it just so happens that it’s men doing the falling without much fuss or flim-flam, certainly in the eyes of the father of one of the young men, who gives his son the best kind of support when his heart is broken. Love normalised.

I was reminded of the simple honestly of this film watching Foul Pages, a very personal play from Robin Hooper, spurred on by memories of school plays, crushes and the truths he could only speak when dressed as a “girl” in a Shakespeare play. As a schoolboy actor he said he never tried to hide what he was or could be… on stage he was liberated.

Foul pages are written in our lives as scripts for dishonesty and expedience. Just as William Shakespeare is made to re-write certain passages by his sponsor the Countess of Pemroke and forced into casting the King’s favourite as Rosalind and not the better actor he wrote the part for, so too do we all compromise parts of our integrity away and on a regular basis. To fit in at work or with social groups we modify our behaviour but when this extends to the vast area of our self, devoted to sexuality and love then it is sad and monstrous.

James King, Thomas Bird and Lewis Chandler
Even in Shakespeare’s happy-go-lucky band of travelling players the men joke about same-sex liaisons as being like in the navy – needs must - whilst others do what they do for favour and patronage. But in the midst of this play acting there is genuine affection and for one couple, a tragedy waiting to happen.

But, before all that, there’s a talking dog called Chop and he is the very best talking dog I have ever seen on stage. Played by James King with best-of-reed swagger and a ruff-ruff! round his neck, Chop is our Greek chorus and one of the most sympathetic characters, commenting straight to audience on the human doings and eventually proving to be a hero. Man’s best friend. As with Lear’s fool, Chop keeps on telling us truths; his’ master’s voice.

Nominally the story is about Mary, Countess of Pembroke (Clare Boomer) and her attempts to stage a play to appeal to King James’ better conscience so that he will free Sir Walter Raleigh. Mary’s married but Raleigh’s her man even before her husband passed on. She will do anything for him and who can blame her when even the King’s bodyguard, Mears (Jack Harding) has taken a bite out of the man who bought us tobacco and potatoes.

Now you see, Bard, this is how you do it...
Mary’s maid, Peg (Olivia Onyehara) is steadfastly in the midst of this intrigue and carries on her work even as the players strut and the mistress plots. She is to be disappointed in her approach to the playwright’s brother Ed (Greg Baxter) who it seems has his heart set on another… Will himself (Ian Hallard) tries hard to protect the chastity of his work but there’s so many wanting to screw it up for the sake of politics, themselves and other issues.

His poetry is also a catalyst for human response and not just as a potion aimed at encouraging the King’s good will. For the talented Alex (Lewis Chandler) Rosalind is the role he was born to play and for Rob (Thomas Bird) it’s the thing with which he’ll catch the eye of the king as he dreams of land in Lincolnshire and the comfortable life of a consort.

King James (Tom Vanson) proves both generous and considerate but the presence of all-powerful royalty does tend to bring out the anxieties in his subjects and jealousy inspires violence as our players become increasingly desperate in their attempts to follow their hearts’ desire.

Peg sees to her mistress as Chop thinks on...
Foul Pages is another intensely theatrical triumph for the Hope and as you would expect, Matthew Parker directs his crowded stage with panache and pace. The energy is high and maintained by snatches of thumping electronica (Chop-House Music?) the action never lets up as the characters move across and around each other from start to finish.

It’s bitter sweet but a glorious plea for honesty and for your truth. It finished with a pumped-up players’ dance that, for a second, I thought we should all join in.

Ithankyou Rating: **** or, for Chop, Woof Woof Woof Woof!!!!

Foul Pages runs until 17th March and tickets are availablefrom their box office and online.

Photographs by LHPhotoshots

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