The Bloody Banquet
 The Stratford upon Avon Fringe Festival 

A Review by Julia Gasper 10 June 2012

On 9th June 2012 Blood and Thunder Theatre Company gave us the first performance for about four hundred years of this violent and lusty tragedy by Shakespeare’s contemporaries Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton. Sensational is an under-statement for this plot of betrayal, revenge, intrigue and horror.

Stratford Fringe is a way of attracting tourist theatre-goers to see unusual and experimental productions. The Bloody Banquet was performed in the round with Elizabethan costumes and a minimum of props, and it proved beyond doubt that this play ought to be revived more often. Kelley Costigan, the artistic director, also took the role of the young Queen of Cilicia. One can see why she wanted to play the role of this passionate and rebellious woman. Kept in confinement by her jealous older husband, the Queen is smitten at first sight by her stepson’s friend, the young Tymethes, (acted by the handsome Spaniard José Perez Diez). She is determined to stop at nothing to satisfy her desire, and takes the lead in seducing him. He for his part is fascinated to find himself wooed by a mysterious unnamed lady, and after being lured to her house under cover of darkness he strays from fidelity to his young fiancée Amphridote (Rachel Stewart).

We had a fine performance from Marc Alden Taylor as the young prince Zenarchus, outraged when he finds that his friend has betrayed his sister, and from Steve Quick as the tyrant Armatrites. He had presence; he just needed a bit of grey hair and an army uniform to be a convincing dictator. He was suitably menacing when he turns up unexpectedly in his wife’s bedroom and finds her not alone, so to speak. It was a little disappointing that the actors were not allowed to fire actual guns (even with blanks) because of “health and safety”. A good loud bang was needed here. But who does the shooting? You will have to see the play to find out the answer.

The comic side that this play undoubtedly possesses was well brought out by Matt Kubus as the scheming and unscrupulous Mazeres, a courtier who eventually gets his come-uppance, and by Peter Malin as Roxano, the Queen’s easily-bribed servant and pander. The comedy of the three shepherds in the forest needed a bit more polishing. What really matters in that scene is the parting shot. After all the types of wolf, or villain, have been described, the young shepherd asks, “And what will we do with them?” The old shepherd replies, “The great ones will be let go and the lesser ones hanged…” Nothing changes does it? Fred Goodwin was never charged with any crime.

This for me was an opportunity, perhaps unique, to see a play I once edited for the Oxford edition of the works of Middleton. It is full of jolly good poetry, exciting situations and sudden twists of plot. Well worth going to and I hope it is not the last production this play gets.



 1st Aerials Oxford




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