Merely Players, Studio Theatre, Salisbury

SALISBURY’S renowned Studio Theatre decided to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee with an Elizabethan masque in the style of the Tudor monarch’s day, gathering together well known speeches, scenes and sonnets from Shakespeare, interspersed with music of the period.

Merely Players, on at the Ashley Road theatre from 22nd to 24th June, has a 12-strong cast including director Rowena Greenaway as well as some regular, new and returning members. Cleverly devised and staged in front of photographs projected onto floor-to-ceiling screens,  it romps from Othello’s Venice to Macbeth’s Scotland, Verona, Padua, Falstaff’s Windsor to Henry VIII’s Hampton Court.

Opening with the fire at the original Globe Theatre, scattering its actors throughout London and further afield, the theme of Pastime with Good Company pervades the action as glimpses of favourite characters flit on and off the stage.

Musical director David Rhodes, who also performed an hilarious Malvolio and a nervy Macbeth, took on the challenges of a theorbo and a mandolin for the performance. He was joined by two of Studio Theatre’s most versatile and talented actresses, almost-newcomer Olivia Dutson and the award-winning Rachel Fletcher, whose musical expertise was a delight. Olivia, first seen in last Christmas’s The Railway Children, sang the very difficult Frescobaldi Se l’aura spira, with a beauty you could expect from the best early music concert.

Highlights of this varied show included David Taylor as Launce (ably accompanied by Crab) from The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Rachel Fletcher’s perfectly judged  and magnetic Nurse from Romeo and Juliet, as well as her determinedly murderous Lady Macbeth, Terry D’Onofrio’s Caliban and Lewis Chalke’s Fabian, and his lustily youthful Petruchio, with Olivia Dutson as the unwilling Kate.

I saw the dress rehearsal, and the minor technical difficulties will be all sorted by the opening night.


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