Friday, 21 September 2018

REVIEW: Eyam at Shakespeare’s Globe

Warning: Eyam is not a light show to take in, but it will certainly shine a light on how the plague spread around England in 1665, particularly in a small town in Derbyshire called Eyam, with only a few hundred inhabitants. 

The story written by Matt Hartley tells of the arrival of Reverend William Mompesson and his wife Katherine to the village and his initial struggle with finding his place as a respected reverend. Indeed, Philip Sheldon seems to be leading the show around town, making the villagers rely on him for their livelihood, similarly to the Butcher in the film “Gangs of New York” – a reference that comes up in one quick moment in this play. When the plague reaches the village, its inhabitants must decide whether to live under quarantine or to leave, risking to infect neighbouring villages.

The set design by Hannah Clark coats the Globe’s boards with a thick black carpet, possibly influencing the way voices reverberate around the space. The costumes, also by Clark, are richly textured, also all black. Most actors are wearing hats and wigs, with men wearing long hair. The wigs were particularly striking, with the overall design really taking me to another time.

In this show, we also enjoy the local accent of the Peak District and many musical interludes led by percussionists and songs composed by Orlando Gough. With figures of death appearing around the theatre and singers sitting and standing with the audience, this play has a more immersive and mystical feel than usual. In the middle of the quarantine, winter hits hard and it starts snowing (a wonderful moment of the play is when fake snow, carried by the wind, fills the whole space). It’s hard to imagine today, but we can feel the bitterness, the hunger and fear of each character. The quality of the costumes, fake animal carving and grave digging adds to an uneasy and queasy feeling. I myself started feeling nauseous at the end of the show, which reaches a point of claustrophobia. 

As always with the Globe, the ensemble is excellent and is here once again
finely directed by Adele Thomas. Stand out performances are Norah Lopez-Holden, a young inhabitant of Eyam who is in love with and wants to marry a boy from the next town. When the plague hits, she proudly stands with her villagers and only talks to him from across a field. Becci Gemmell is lovely, warm and vulnerable as Elizabeth Sydall and Mary Talbot, who is expecting an illegitimate child during the plague. Finally, Sam Crane is fragile but determined as the Reverend and leaves us with a monologue giving us all names of those who died, in order for them not to be forgotten. This part troubled me for some reason, and added to my nausea. Crane, whose character has just lost his wife, sways between being the Reverend and being someone of today remembering what happened to this town. The list is long, and I don’t know that it will always hit the right nerve.

This is a hard-hitting, adult and raw new play that makes you wonder about what would happen if our clean water supply suddenly stopped and we all needed to really help each other out. It is also a funny play that brings light and surprises to a dark time. There is definitely a curious and sad human experience to be had as an audience member at the same time as the people telling the story on the stage.

Review by Sophie Tergeist

Rating: ★★★

Seat: D39 | Price of Ticket: £47
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