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REVIEW: The Lady's Mad

Elizabeth Hardy reviews The Lady's Mad at Holy Trinity, 1st December

We have seen the turbulent 1640s dramatised very recently in the RSC’s 2017 Mischief Festival, but on 1st December, in the haunting stillness of Holy Trinity Church, Thistledown Theatre Company told us a story of the times with a peculiarly female and local focus.

Rebekah King is a very talented writer and a playwright to watch. Her provocative new play discovers a family at war with itself, within a country urgently divided in its politics. The resonances for us need no underlining.

Initially, the cocksure republican faction turns up on the doorstep of the absent parliamentarian Sir Arthur Cavill, assured of a good welcome. Snubbed by his royalist wife, Lady Hester - played with staunch intransigence by Sarah Pyper – they plot revenge. The aggressors have not, though, accounted for the formidable spirit of a mother who can shift her role-play, even to madness, to protect her son and her principles. And there are other women who show similar virtuosity in adapting their parts for self-defence, or self-empowerment: Hester’s sister, Eleanor (Laurence Goodwin), sweeps in, uninvited, to play the self-righteous zealot, acting on a divine directive to endorse support for the king through her treasured Book of Daniel. Goodwin’s intense portrayal appears lit as brightly from within, as it is from without.

And Eleanor is apparently not the only one with a heavenly political mandate, or with significant theatrical talent. Indeed, it is the extraordinary and charismatic historical figure of ‘Mad Moll’ (Emily Saddler) who, ultimately, commands - along with her parliamentary troops - our full attention.

Saddler’s remarkable stage presence, controlled yet passionate, embodies a young woman born to lead, but slightly baffled by her own ascent to power. In the superbly modulated climactic head-to-head between Hester and Moll, the ethical sympathy of the two impressive protagonists is always more striking, and moving, than their political differences. In this dark performance, there are, happily, some timely lighteners: in Hannah Wilmshurst’s and Craig Finley’s energetic ballad contest, and in the comic touches of familiar teenage dissidence that offset, whilst they also point, the serious familial rift. But History is, finally, the rhetoric that denies the threats of women such as Moll – or, indeed, Hester or Eleanor – and still, more disturbingly, defines our present. After all, it can only ever be that The Lady’s Mad.

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