"crisp, sweet, bubbly, romantic comedy"
by Peter Carrington on 11/01/13

This apocryphal Shakespeare play (written around 1590) cheerfully starts with a song and a joyful music pervades this romantic comedy throughout. As Director Phil Willmott says, it is 'quirky and slight entertainment' which it is; sweet, light but a treat, a bit like a cupcake.

William the Conqueror (a bombastic Jack Taylor) sees the image of Blanch, Princess of Denmark and sets off to woo her for his Queen. Once in Denmark he finds her not to his liking but prefers Mariana of Sweden, the love of his friend Marquess Lubeck (Tom Gordon-Gill). Meanwhile, fleeing William's conquest Sir Thomas Goddard (James Horne) and his daughter Em (Caroline Haines) disguise themselves as a miller and daughter in the English countryside. Em is courted by three suitors of noble descent. Both Mariana and Em concoct plans to resolve their situations, though things work out in unexpected ways.

This spirited comedy is framed in a beautiful illustrated set (designed by Philip Lindley) lending a period, yet cartoon quality to proceedings which is fitting to the exaggerated comic action. The set is uncluttered which gives a great feeling of space in the tiny theatre which gives the cast room to move. It requires a strong cast to hold the piece together and this talented group does well. The Fair Em herself is the spirited Caroline Haines, showing the purity and loveliness of an English rose without being a wallflower. Her suitors are all excellent in their tragi-comic fawnings; David Ellis plays the shallow Manville with just the right level of villainy, countering the shy heroic blunderings of Robert Welling's Lord Valingford. For the true romantic hero however one must look to Tom Gordon-Gill as the honourable yet torn Marquess Lubeck; Gordon-Gill is compelling as the tormented lover. Paired with Alys Metcalf as Mariana, who wins hearts and minds this makes a fascinating couple to watch. Comedic moments come from Robert Donald as the doddery Trotter, the larger-than life Gordon Winter as the King of Denmark and Madeline Gould as his daughter Blanch all have great comic timing - essential for this work. Willmott also introduces dances and fights to liven up the action and explain plot points later on.

This is a quality production, the music and sound design by Nick Morell brings the audience into the English countryside both with sound effects and with the joyful music of the Green Willow group. The addition of music and dance lends a slightly farcical element which some may find overeggs the comedy but it is well in keeping with the tone Willmott is creating. Overall it feels crisp, sweet and bubbly like a summer wine. By rights this production should performed in summertime open air theatres and the grounds of stately homes for enraptured audiences to enjoy alongside their cakes. It feels a bit like a cupcake, slight, sweet but a treat. The main and only real fault is that it is not Shakespeare. Lacking the Bard's poeticism means it never delivers the same impact as a Shakespeare comedy. But that doesn't mean it isn't an enjoyable evening entertainment and the authorship is not really the point of this production. I found, as a fan of Shakespeare's comedies, Fair Em was a treat.

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