On 12th March, audiences in Oxford have a rare opportunity to witness a drama being performed for the first time since the days of Charles I.
The Lady’s Trial was the last play written by John Ford, best known as the author of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Ford was one of a group of playwrights – loose contemporaries of Shakespeare including Thomas Middleton, John Lyly and Christopher Marlowe – who produced works especially for the all-boys’ theatre companies which were popular in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The most recent known performance was at the Phoenix (Cockpit) Theatre Drury Lane in 1638 by the last of the original boys’ companies, ‘Beeston’s Boys’.
This production is being staged by Edward’s Boys, a modern boys’ company from King Edward VI School in Stratford-upon-Avon. They have developed a stellar reputation over recent years for their revivals of previously-neglected Early Modern dramas such as A Mad World My Masters, Westward Ho! and Antonio’s Revenge. Their 2014 performance of John Lyly’s Galatea at Shakespeare’s Globe was met with a standing ovation by a capacity audience, and described by Patrick Spottiswoode, Director of Globe Education, as, “moving and witty and subversive – everything that Lyly should be. The company is simply remarkable, an incredible group.”
Ford is experiencing a re-evaluation currently with both the RSC and Shakespeare’s Globe staging three of his plays during 2015. Edward’s Boys’ Director, Perry Mills, says:
“There are no previous productions, movies or TV adaptations to use as reference points. It is like staging a completely new work, but doubly challenging as we cannot ask the author what his intentions were; we just have the text. However, what we see is a fascinating tragi-comedy which in some ways looks forward to topics which we usually associate with dramatists of later centuries like Ibsen, Chekhov and Pinter: the position of women in society and in the home; the relationship between audience and performer; subtext, and the theatrical potential of the pause and silence. Inevitably, perhaps, it offers some chillingly perceptive insights into the relationships between men and women – which makes it all the more intriguing that it was performed by a boys’ company. We hope we may be in the privileged position of uncovering a neglected masterpiece”.
The production will premiere on Thursday 12th March with a performance at the Simpkins Lee Theatre, Lady Margaret Hall, at 7.30pm. Tickets (£10 Adults, £8 Students and Over-65s) are available online at www.ticketsource.co.uk/kes, and on the door (subject to availability).
There are further performances in Walsall and Edward’s Boys’ home town of Stratford-upon-Avon before the production transfers to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe in London, in September.