Anyone interested in early modern theatre should see an Edward’s Boys’ production. Their exploration of the repertory written for the Boys’ Companies may not be for the faint-hearted. The closed-minded will side with the anti-theatrical pamphleteers and declare that disguise is indeed a wickedness. The open-hearted will relish their performances as a revelation.
Perry Mills and his boys are fast becoming the stuff of legend. A cut above your average drama society, Edward’s Boys are currently ploughing their way through the dramatic canon of the early modern childrens’ companies… we were given a consummately professional and finely-realised production of a very rarely-performed play. It’ll be fascinating to see where the boys take us next.
Edward’s Boys are a firm fixture on the map of the English theatrical scene—and they have also changed the map of how we think about early modern theatre (not just boys’ company plays). The boys – of all ages – are simultaneously innocent and knowing in performance, keeping city comedy teetering on the brink of send-up and making revenge tragedy able to confront its own excess.
Edward’s Boys’ revivals of plays by the likes of Lyly, Middleton and Marston have informed and transformed my thinking about early modern drama and children’s company plays in particular. No modern revivals can give us concrete answers to our questions about the plays or their performance style, but over the last few years Perry MIlls’ lucid and imaginative productions have asked the very best kinds of questions.
Wacky, subversive and often very rude (and that’s just the director), the boy players at K.E.S. always come up with insightful and thrilling solutions to often difficult and challenging texts. For the cast the rehearsals are intellectually stimulating and huge fun, for the audience the productions are even more so! And no parent should be deprived of at least one opportunity to see their son being serious in a nice frock… Long may they continue!
Edward’s Boys show us what boys’ companies can do — which is to say, anything. Their productions are not excellent ‘for children’ or ‘for amateurs’ – they are excellent by any standards. They draw energy from two vital sources: first, painstaking attention to the text, which enables each actor to understand his lines and communicate clearly with the audience; second, the ensemble ethos of the boys and their director, Perry Mills. Mills has created a culture in which the boys teach and learn from each other, releasing the exuberant will to perform in each one to great creative effect. Edward’s Boys audiences learn something about boys’ companies and early modern drama, but they also relish pure theatrical gold.
“They bear the mark of a great early modern acting company: not only can they enliven seemingly impenetrable prose, maximise the multi-media possibilities of performance, take liberties with text and create fluidity and dynamism in clowning and comedy, but they can take and adapt those qualities as occasion, space and audience require.”
Edward’s Boys never fail to delight with their always lively and committed performances of plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Avoiding theatrical archaeology, they nevertheless offer deeply suggestive insights into the practices of the all-boys’ companies that performed both comedies and tragedies – too often neglected by our professional theatre – by writers such as John Lyly, Thomas Middleton and John Marston.
Those who were privileged to see the little eyases of KES playing The Dutch Courtesan will really understand what Shakespeare was talking about: the common stagers in the Courtyard behind the new science block have good cause to be rattled.
I can honestly say that I had never imagined I would ever see a production that came so near to recapturing what it must have been like to see the plays as they were intended to be performed, or that would shed so much light on how much could be expected of juvenile performers.