William Shakespeare and John Fletcher
MokitaGrit in association with The Steam Industry
New Players Theatre, Charing Cross
Up until recently, 1727 was the last time Double Falsehood appeared in the capital. That was, until Phil Willmott decided to stage the tale at the Union Theatre, Southwark earlier this year. Willmott's production was such a success that it has transferred to the New Players Theatre for one week only, which suggests that having waited so long, the play may enjoy many more outings in the not so distant future.
But why the sudden interest in a play that was, up until recently, disregarded? In March 2010 Double Falsehood became part of the Arden Shakespeare series, placing the title well within the Shakespeare canon. This was a landmark decision as the true authorship of the play is hotly debated. In 1727 Lewis Theobald presented it as a lost Shakespeare and many argue that he probably had more of a hand in writing it than Shakespeare ever did. Indeed, the cover to the third edition proudly reads 'Written originally by W.Shakespeare, and revised by Mr Theobald', with poor Fletcher nowhere to be seen.
Double Falsehood is a tale of two sets of lovers, disapproving parents and cross-dressing. Throw into the mix a touch of madness, wicked younger brothers and a friar and it is almost as if Double Falsehood is a mix up of Shakespeare's best known plays, complete with an ending not too dissimilar to All's Well That Ends Well.
Summoned by the Duke, Julio unwittingly leaves his lover Leonora open to his best friend and the Duke's son Henrique's advances, even though Henrique has already had his way with Leonora's servant Violante. Unfortunately for Leonora, her mother relishes the fact that her daughter could be married to aristocracy and a wedding is arranged. But when Julio turns up in disguise at his lover's wedding, things go from bad to worse, that is, until the Duke's eldest son, Roderick, turns up.
As Leonora's mother Su Douglas plays a class driven woman, who at first has no care for her daughter's wishes. Stephen Boswell as her neighbour and would-be brother in law delivers his part with great eccentricity and Richard Morse makes for a comedic Friar Lopez who does not react well to having his nose tweaked.
Adam Redmore successfully captures Henrique's wicked sense of arrogance, with his devilish laugh signifying pure evil. The lovers, Gabriel Vick and Kate Webster as Julio and Leonora, act their roles with honesty and integrity and, as Violante, Jessie Lilley proves that her character will be sullied by no man.
Willmott's production, transported to 1950s Selville, captures the atmosphere of the play perfectly, complimented by its stripped down approach and simple staging. Consisting of numerous well constructed stage pictures, the production's pace never flags and although a little predictable at times is a joy to watch.
Double Falsehood has won the affection of Arden, but will it win the affections of future producers? With the RSC set to present their version of the tale later this year, it seems almost likely and so thanks to Theobald and Arden, this lost 'Shakespeare' is set to be enjoyed by audiences for years to come.
Playing until 19th February 2011
Reviewer: Simon Sladen