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.
More than any other theatre company, including the best of the professionals, Edward’s Boys are in the vanguard of exploring the theatrical style of Thomas Middleton and other contemporaries of Shakespeare… They are clearly leading the way in the exploration of early modern plays using an all-boys cast. Those of us privileged to see these productions are learning about a key aspect of the production of plays in Shakespeare’s period. We are also seeing excellent productions of plays that are insufficiently performed, and, above all, enjoying some memorable evenings in the theatre.
They are our modern day “Little Eyases” as the companies of boy performers were referred to in Hamlet. But in fact the exercise is much more than that, and should I think be seen, as it deserves to be, in the wider context of Shakespeare study and performance worldwide…for me as a Shakespeare director, with particular interest in the repertoire of these contemporaries, these productions have proved invaluable… Forgive me for going on at length, but I think the school is producing something rather miraculous, and I suspect it is too easy for that to go unsaid. So I am saying it.
“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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Your work is the most sustained attempt to re-imagine what we think boy companies could do – and it will really rewrite the academic theatre history books.