The Wild Goose Chase
John Fletcher (1621)
The White Bear Theatre
John Fletcher was a Stuart dramatist in the reign of James the First, collaborating with Francis Beaumont and, perhaps more famously today, with William Shakespeare, playing the young bow to the bard's ageing violin on Henry VIII (All is True) and The Two Noble Kinsmen.
But Fletcher was a playwright in his own right, and it is thanks to The White Bear's brave persistence in restoring lost classics to the stage (such as The Yorkshire Tragedy recently) that we are able to see The Wild Goose Chase performed for the first time since the 1700s.
First published in the early 1600's (the 1652 text is used here), the plot revolves around those early modern staples where cocky young men of a certain class return from their travels (here, Paris) having sown their wild oats and are now ready to settle down.
In the sixteenth-century, the phrase "wild good chase" meant not a fruitless quest, but following a chosen leader (the "goose") along their chosen path; and the leader here is Mirabell, a cad played with nasty relish by Nik Drake, who encourages his malleable friends Pinac and Belleur (Danny Wainwright and Edward Cartwright - fine comedians, both) to spurn convention, avoid marriage and treat women as unfeeling, brainless chattels.
This play's refreshing humour lies in the fact that the women will have none of it and are determined to gain the upper hand through their own particular machinations. Beneath the surface, a fear of the power women can wield over men is palpable.
Kerry Wotton and Joanna Nuttall are particularly strong as Rosalura and Lillia Bianca: assisted by their dapper and exotic tutor Lugier (Jackie Skarvellis), the sisters plot and scheme to ensure that young Oriana (Ami Sayers) is able to tame Mirabel's 'wild goose' (with whom she is sick in love), while taming their own potential beloveds in the process.
This production offers a chance to experience a play as an original audience might have done, in that (unlike, say, Much Ado) most of us will come to it "cold", with no prior knowledge of plot or characterization, and it is here that Fletcher's craft as a playwright shines through.
However the plot of The Wild Goose Chase is easy to follow, characters well developed, and nods to the twenty-first century - modern dress, mobiles, i-pods, a smidgeon of Britney Spears - add to, rather than detract from, the play's charm.
Director David Brown and his talented team are to be applauded, offering a rare chance to see something rare: a two-hour comedy that is actually very funny indeed.
To 3rd July
Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler