Robert Tanitch reviews The Malcontent at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London SE1
This new indoor, candle-lit, timber-framed replica of a Jacobean theatre, which shares the same site as Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, is the perfect small-scale, intimate venue to explore Shakespeare’s contemporaries.
John Marston (1576-1634), a master of invective, wrote his bitter, misogynistic satire specifically to be performed by The Children of the Queen’s Revels. It premiered at the Blackfriars Theatre in 1603 with great success.
A duke, deposed and banished, returns to his kingdom in disguise to give a virtuoso performance as a malcontent, Malevole, a snarling, cynical, all-licensed clown, who lashes out at the usurping duke and his courtiers, exposing their corruption, hypocrisy and greed.
The Children of the Queen’s Revels, all in their early teens, were trained in diction, oration, rhetoric, movement, singing and dancing. They specialised in satirical comedies and they enjoyed royal patronage. They aimed at a higher class audience than the Globe did.
The children must have been extremely talented. Shakespeare in Hamlet complains that the children are all the rage and taking away business from his theatre.
900 children, young teenagers, boys and girls, auditioned to appear in Caitlin McLeod’s production; but the American director clearly failed to find a young actor who could carry off the difficult title role which requires the ability to give two quite different performances.
One actor stands out above all the rest, Sam Hird, who is taller and looks older than everybody else. He plays the bawdy procuress, Mcquerelle, who is banished to the suburbs.
The high spot of the production is the dancing/hand-clapping, highly-drilled curtain call.