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Bartholomew Fair - National Theatre 1988

 

Bartholomew Fair 1988 - National Theatre

James McDougall © Group Three Photography

'Never until Richard Eyre's marvellous production had I realised that, within its teeming canvas, Bartholomew Fair is as craftily constructed as Volpone and The Alchemist [...]. For once a production has got on top of Jonson's language instead of being buried under it. Scenic language comes first: and never more than in the concluding puppet play, where Busy's invasion of the lewd spectacle reaches a climax when he loses his religious breeches, disclosing a frilly salmon-pink foundation garment.' Irving Wardle, 'Everyone's at the fair', The Times, 22 October 1988

'The acting is universally brilliant. In David Burke's performance, Zel-of-the-land Busy, Jonson's Puritan Banbury-Man moves in and out of the apocalyptic tones of Ian Paisley [...]. David Bamber gives a wonderful account of Littlewit, and comes on finally adorned with Wilde's green carnation and Bunthorne jacket, in his capacity as author of the puppet play-within-a-play. John Wells, as the disguised Overdo, is first placarded like the man at Oxford Circus who warns of the dangers of lust from too much animal protein, and second as a flower-porter with a dozen boxes balanced on his head. Best of all, perhaps, is Michael Bryant's Troubleall, a Beckettian nut-case continuously seeking any warrant bearing the hand of the (to him) mystical Overdo.' Peter Porter, 'Setting up the swindlers', Times Literary Supplement, 10 November 1988

'The stellar performance comes from Michael Bryant, one of Britain's most distinguished actors, as a sad-sack madman skittering around like an Emmett Kelly woefully afraid of his own shadow. Barbara Leigh-Hunt  plays a Salvation Army-like widow who gets giddily drunk and hot-blooded. Her pregnant daughter (Kate Spiro), who ends up in a harem dancer's outfit, is equally fine at fleshing out the surface with all sorts of telling details. The pompous Justice Overdo (John Wells) and Mark Addy as the larger-than-life 'soul' of the fair, Usrula, the pig woman, are both vivid; but not all of the lowlifes are as convincing as the pick pocketing Edgworth (John Cullen). Uneven but impressive.' Allen Robertson, Review, London Theatre News, January 1989

'Designer William Dudley has even provided a couple of real life carousels and a tuneful Whurlitzer. It is a delight to look at and the opening scenes in the madcap household of John Littlewit, Proctor and maker of unwitty witticisms, lead us into a world that is set firmly in a Dickensian rather than its original Jacobean period [...]. But beyond this spectacular opening, Eyre's production remains curiously flat [...] With names like Grace Wellborn, Sharkwell and Zeal-of-the-Land Busy, Jonson gives the director a perfect opportunity to take liberties with naturalism and push characterisation to its most eccentric and stylised limits. Paula Webb, 'Flat fair', What's On, October 1988

'The chief compensations are William Dudley's spectacular designs - with rotating Ferris wheels suddenly turning into ornately decorated fairground booths - and a clutch of good performances [...]. The evening is fitfully rather than consecutively funny [...].  A change of period can sometimes liberate a play: it can also, as in this case of this Victorianised Bartholomew Fair, corset it." Michael Billington, Review, The Guardian, 22 October 1988

'By picking up Jonson's play from its Jacobean setting and placing it
down in late Victorian London, Richard Eyre has lost some of the play's authentic spirit, namely its bewildering vigour that resists
form and order [...] despite references to roast pork, sweat and overflowing chamber-pots, the piece turns out polished and wearing its Sunday best. The director has given it a most unJonsonian tidiness. [Still] instead of carping it is worth while appreciating the production's considerable merits. Richard Eyre manages to make Jonson seem both pleasurable and interesting. In fact the Victorian setting is a delight.' Christopher Edwards, 'All the fun of the fair', Spectator, 29 October 1988

'All the fun of the fair would appear to be here. But not, I fear, all the fun of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair. His epic picture is of bacchanalian revel where ballooning hypocrisies are mischievously punctured [...] Exactly why Richard Eyre's elaborate staging fails to capture the essential anarchy of Jonson's ancient rites is not easy to define. He has left no visual detail unexplored, no felicity of casting unfulfilled [...]. For all his care and his cast's best efforts, like Justice Overdo himself, Mr Eyre has painted himself into a corner with a misplaced but good idea.' Jack Tinker, Review, Daily Mail, 27 October 1988

'One's doubts about it start with the stage itself and work their way up. The polished revolves on which the play unfolds are so clean that you could eat your dinner off them. It is symptomatic of a production which suffers from a bad hygiene problem; it is just too hygienic [...]. Jonson emblematises in the Fair the sprawling formlessness of the life which resists any attempts (particularly moralistic ones) to impose order on it. But the canvas here - dominated by the glittering Ferris wheels and steam organs of William Dudley's Victorian fairground -  fails to pullulate with the necessary reeking vitality [...] despite some hilarious playing from the band of smug, buttoned-up nhypocrites, who, pretending to be outraged, venture voraciously into the Fair, the anti-puritan satire fails to take off because we are never given a vivid sense of the vortex which sucks these people up, and rudely separates them from their dignity.' Paul Taylor, 'Swine, but too few pigs', The Independent, 22 October 1988

'With an over-intellectualised approach and reset, to no great effect, in anachronistic Victorian times, it appears like a species of costumed charade, with as many accents as the are 'characters' and with little of the smell of Smithfieldor the poxiness of the period.' Ken Lawrence, 'On theatre and cinema', Spotlight, 1988

Production Photos

from www.arenapal.com

List of Reviews:

Milton Shulman, Review, The Critics, 21 October 1988 

'Missing the fun of the fair', Daily Telegraph, 22 October 1988

Michael Billington, Review, The Guardian, 22 October 1988

Michael Coveney, 'Blood brothers of English theatre', Financial Times, 22 October 1988

Paul Taylor, 'Swine, but too few pigs', The Independent, 22 October 1988

Irving Wardle, 'Everyone's at the fair', The Times, 22 October 1988

Francis King, 'A rare Ben Jonson', Sunday Telegraph, 23 October 1988

John Peter, 'Caught in the language trap', The Sunday Times, 23 October 1988 

Anne Donaldson, Review, Glasgow Herald, 26 October 1988

Lyn Gardner, Review, City Limits, 26 October 1988 

Sheridan Morley, Review, International Herald Tribune, 26 October 1988

Jack Tinker, Review, Daily Mail, 27 October 1988

Christopher Edwards, 'All the fun of the fair', The Spectator, 29 October 1988

Paula Webb, 'Flat fair', What's On, October 1988

Peter Porter, 'Setting up the swindlers', Times Literary Supplement, 10 November 1988 

Alex Renton, 'The Olivier's fair without fun', Illustrated London News, December 1988

Ken Lawrence, 'On theatre and cinema', Spotlight, 1988

Allen Robertson, Review, London Theatre News, January 1989