I first saw an Edward’s Boys production in 2010, the first year that I lived in Stratford. I remember hearing that this young company were incredible and I remember being astonished at the confidence and sophistication of their performance of Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. Regrettably, in the last few years I’ve missed more of their productions than I’ve seen. Thankfully, I got to see Galatea last night, at their school in Stratford, and you should see it too, if you get the chance, either at Stratford, Warwick, or at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Brave, brilliant, beautiful, it’s somehow even better than I’d hoped.
I don’t have time to do the production, or the play, justice, but it’s easy to find inevitably glowing reviews of Edward’s Boys productions and I suspect this will be the case for Galatea. Equally, Lyly’s plays are receiving increased attention thanks to the work of scholars like Andy Kesson. It’s great, for example, to see that Lyly is getting his own event at the Globe in April.
Yet, while I can’t write a full length review, I do want to make a few brief observations. The last review I wrote commented on how audience members at The Belgrade were disinclined to think positively about Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist. Numerous audience members admitted to leaving at the interval but were careful to stress they did not lay the blame on the actors, but rather on the play itself. This has made me think a little about what audiences do when they applaud at the end (or in the middle) of a play. Are they applauding the actors, or the play, or both, or something else? Applause is almost always for the actors, I imagine, but not always, I think, for the play. Did those who stayed to watch The Alchemist at the Belgrade applaud Jonson, as well as the actors? Many, I think, did not. But when I was watching Galatea it occurred to me that although the audience were very clearly and rightly appreciative of the efforts of the actors and production crew, they were also applauding Lyly.
One scene in particular springs to mind. Near the end of the play, the Lincolnshire townsfolk prepare to sacrifice the most beautiful virgin they can find to appease Neptune. The two most beautiful virgins have smuggled to safety by their fathers, leaving poor Hebe, the third most beautiful virgin, to fulfill her duty as the promised sacrifice. Rather brilliantly, the monster, expected to devour said sacrifice, decides not to bother with the third most beautiful provincial maiden and does not arrive. Hebe (Dominic Howden) delivers an exceptionally long speech preparing for an encounter that, like the arrival of Godot, just does not come. Characteristically, Edward’s Boys do a wonderful job with the scene, bravely allowing the silences to do their work. Hebe speaks, she waits, she looks around the stage, the gathered crowd nervously cast glances at each other, and at us. Hebe speaks some more – ‘Come, Agar, thou unsatiable monster of maidens’ blood’ – and there are more uncomfortable silences, each interrupted by increasingly agitated admonitions, each increasingly funny. It’s not hilarious at first, but it’s easy to feel the gradual crackle of pleasure arising out of the audience and it makes the eventual release, obtained by Hamish de Nett’s impeccable delivery of the line ‘the monster is not come’, all the sweeter. At the end of the scene, the audience applaud a wonderful piece of theatre. They clap for the Edward’s Boys, of course, but also for Lyly. They know they have seen something brillaint.