Anna Pike reviews The Woman in the Moon, Edward’s Boys, King Edward VI School, Saturday, 10th March. The Boys are currently performing the production in Montpellier, France
It is perhaps unusual to be so enthralled with a production that, at its conclusion, you want to immediately watch it all over again. Yet, that is exactly how I felt as the cast of Edward’s Boys took their final bows after performing John Lyly’s Elizabethan play The Woman in the Moon at King Edward VI School on Saturday evening. It was smart, funny and ridiculously outrageous. These attributes alone may be enough to offer a pleasant evening’s entertainment, however, the play offers much more beyond comedy and farce. Ultimately it is a play about the human condition, and its exploration of themes around the subjectivity of women, misogyny and the empowerment of women, as well as the construction of identity, is obviously still incredibly relevant.
Set in Utopia, where the Divine Creator, Nature, is a she. Nature creates the world’s first woman, Pandora, at the request of four shepherds. Pandora is perfect, ‘of a purer mould’ than the males around her. However, this enrages the Planets who jealously agree to subject Pandora to their influences of melancholy, pride, aggression, love, desire, cunning and finally lunacy — while she is pursued by the hapless love-struck shepherds. A fast and furious romp ensues taking the audience on a journey through astrology, Greek mythology, magic and farce until order is restored from the chaos by Pandora herself in a final act of female independence. Pandora, played magnificently by Joe Pocknell, is the biggest female role in all English Renaissance theatre (believe it or not!). The versatility Pocknell displayed with the emotional transformations required of the part was very impressive. Jack Hawkins also gave an outstanding performance as Gunophilus, Pandora’s servant, who provides the perfect foil between the audience’s reality and the play’s surrealism.
For a play written in the 1590s The Woman in the Moon is surprisingly accessible; the language surprisingly modern. The decision by director Perry Mills to set it in 1967, the ‘Summer of Love’ is an inspired one; especially given the nature of the company. With a backdrop of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, which all-boy cast of teenagers would not enjoy rising to the challenge of championing the female role?! Without a doubt the cast had enormous fun putting on this production and that kind of enjoyment is wildly infectious, resulting in a performance that was quite beautifully mad.