Eyam at Shakespeare’s Globe
The Derby plague of 1665, and especially its impact on the village of Eyam, has inspired a large number of artists and writers throughout the centuries. Matt Hartley follows in that tradition, successfully capturing the horror and tragedy of the 14 months the community was forced to endure the deaths of over 260 of its 350 villagers. With an impressive use of partly archaic language rooted in Restoration drama and a tight character-driven plot, Eyam hooks the audience throughout its entire three-hour runtime.
Reverend William Mompesson (Sam Crane) arrives at his new parish in Eyam only to find the village wrought with family feuds between all its inhabitants. When the plague breaks out shortly after his arrival, he guides his congregation through a self-imposed quarantine to avoid further outbreaks, forcing them to work together in the name of hope.
Featuring a brilliant cast and superb directing by Adele Thomas and immersive sound design by Bill Barclay, the play evokes a great deal of sympathy for its large set of characters. Almost all storylines are interesting to follow, all victims are a shock to the onlookers. The pace flows nicely between the scenes and a good balance between horrific depictions of the plague and humorous moments to loosen the tension ensures terrific entertainment.
But aside from the tremendous production, Hartley’s writing is the true star of Eyam. With formidable skill he uses the spirit of 17th-century drama to create a masterpiece of theatre that intoxicates the imagination through its exploration of how people are capable of working together in the face of a terrifying catastrophe.
Sadly, the script is also the one aspect that contains several flaws. Since the work is about the story of a whole village, there are many individual plotlines – and most of them are engaging – but some are out of necessity left unfulfilled or underdeveloped, which occasionally feels unsatisfying. Also, some of the characters are too well-educated for people living in a poor village in 1665 when most would be illiterate, making some of the dialogue seem unbelievable.
Despite these two hiccups, Eyam remains a stupendously wonderful production with superior writing, a high production value and a refreshingly subtle handling of its themes and politics. Bringing to life the history of the Great Plague, inspiring meditations on overcoming division, and serving as a beautiful homage to the victims of the Derby Plague, Eyam is undoubtedly a success.
Photos: Marc Brenner
Eyam is at Shakespeare’s Globe from 15th September until 13th October 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.