Bartholomew Fair at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Upon first glance, we might expect a 400-year-old play to be outdated and perhaps even dull. However, Bartholomew Fair proves to be a fun production which holds up a comical mirror to today’s London. Directed by Blanche Mcintyre, the old script is transported to the 21st century, featuring quintessential modern British stereotypes, live music and battles with a giant Pikachu.
Ben Johnson’s play, originally performed at the Hope Theatre in 1614, is restaged at the famous Globe’s intimate Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and remains vastly entertaining regardless of its age. The five-act Jacobean comedy showcases the stories and interactions of multiple caricatures from varying social classes during the annual Bartholomew Fair, a “yearly week-long orgy of non-essential consumerism”. We witness young pickpocketers, pompous and naïve aristocrats and a prudish, conservative preacher, all proven to be of equal standing – all as unsympathetic and bad as each other.
Mcintyre’s adaptation manages to recapture and recontextualise the humour and emphasis on the people of Britain from Ben Johnson’s original script. There is a sense of familiarity as we stare at depictions of ourselves and a sense of shock as we then proceed to laugh at our ridiculousness.
The talented cast shines throughout the show as they breathe life and comedy into the various characters they play. Their portrayals are vibrant and engaging, with near-perfect comedic timing and strong physical slapstick moments that leave the audience in hysterics. However, despite the standout performances, there is something lacking in the production’s atmosphere. The fair, during certain moments, is almost too quiet. At points, the setting cries out for a liveliness that mimics the boisterous characters and the reputation of the London fairs of the past.
Mcintyre’s Bartholomew Fair feels fresh and in touch with its modern audience. It makes a point to rightly ridicule the class structures in our society and show us all as equals through mockery and comedy.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Bartholomew Fair is at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse from 30th August until 12th October 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.