The opening of a new theater is always a cause for rejoicing, so I was eager to break in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. A Jacobean recreation complete with candles to light it? And a roof? Suddenly I could envision myself making the trip to the Globe much more frequently, only not for the opening show Duchess of Malfi (which was sold out). Instead, I got tickets for the much less competitive Knight of the Burning Pestle, and went knowing very little about it.
There were lots of positives at the beginning: 100% autentico musicians in the galley (an arch lute! a viola da gamba! And was that a shawm?), really precisely historically accurate costumes on the actors, the smell of beeswax everywhere. My side balcony seats weren’t too uncomfortable and had an only slightly obstructed view. But then the show started and it became clear that the “comic” interrupting from the two characters pretending to be Jacobean audience members was going to continue throughout the show.
And I despaired. Oh how I despaired. As the stage show continued, a tissue thin plot emerged – something about thwarted lovers and a confused knight running around Walthamstow Forest looking for maidens to rescue (while wearing a panto-style horse costume), all while being heckled or otherwise disturbed from the stalls. The whole thing descended into farce, then (during a fight scene) fell even lower into what I can only describe as the world of Sicilian puppet theater (clash clash clang clang DRAGONS!).
We had been told there would be microintervals (for leg stretches, I assume) then a proper interval, but also that it was going to be a three hour long show. Now, I sat happily through Jerusalem and A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, but in both cases I was eager to rush back in and see what happened next. In this case, I had the opposite feeling, that of a huge relief as I gave up on the whole thing and left at the full interval. I’m sure this theater is going to be a real asset to London, but whoever picked this show needs a slap in the face with a fish, preferably one that had spoiled a bit, while being heckled by irritated audience members. I’ve got my salmon, baby, why don’t you stand a little closer?
(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, March 6th, 2014. It continues through March 30th.)