Foul Pages at the Hope Theatre
The Hope Theatre’s sixth in-house production, Robin Hooper’s Foul Pages directed by Matthew Parker, is a charmingly outrageous, bawdy farce about Shakespeare, the monarchy and the theatre world. Witty, engaging and original, the piece is a tale of intrigue involving the incumbent King James I (Tom Vanson), the Countess of Pembroke (Clare Bloomer), Sir Walter Raleigh, thespians Alex (Lewis Chandler) and Rob (Thomas Bird), of course the great bard himself (Ian Hallard), and a talking dog, Chop (James King).
Taking place in 1603, in which the royal court has moved to Wiltshire to avoid a plague in London, the story centres around Shakespeare’s re-writing of As You Like It – to appease the King at the insistence of the Countess, who is trying to save the imprisoned Sir Walter Raleigh. Meanwhile, sexual antics and affairs prevail among the characters, especially the actors. James I has a rumoured active attraction to young men, although it is claimed his religious beliefs prevent him from pursuing more than the tamest demonstrations thereof. His predilection for one of the performers – thus ordering him to be cast as the play’s lead – creates turmoil and tragedy within the troupe.
There are rumours of ghosts, hidden French refugees, sexual rivalries, declarations of love, broken hearts and acts of revenge – all amid an atmosphere of complete lunacy. Chop, the human pooch – who spouts Shakespearean verse and shuffles around in perfectly canine fashion – is a great touch.
The Hope’s stage is tiny, creating an intimacy between audience and actors – one of the charms of pub theatre. The set design is simple and effective; scene changes are quickly made by the players to energetic rock, and in such limited space the nine performers are very deftly choreographed, their movements well coordinated.
Notable headliner Ian Hallard brilliantly recreates a disconcerted Shakespeare. Bloomer’s Countess and Vanson’s James I are excellent, as are Chandler and Bird’s thespians. The Countess’s outspoken maid is skilfully played by Olivia Onyehara; Greg Baxter convincingly portrays Shakespeare’s brother, an object of passion in a love triangle; and Jack Harding is strong as the monarch’s fearless bodyguard. James King’s Chop the dog steals the show, as he not only nails canine behaviour but delivers some of the work’s best and funniest lines.
An innovative, smart, appealing, lively and merrily risqué comedy, Foul Pages is intriguing and fun and well worth a ticket.
Foul Pages is at the Hope Theatre from 20th February until 17th March 2018. for further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.