Review of Rebellion in Action by Richard Pearson

A good friend once told me that, “Theatre is Society’s debate with itself.” This perception has been confirmed during the ten years that I have been fortunate enough to see the productions by Edward’s Boys. They have taken texts, in the main little-known, and by a thorough examination of the language and the ideas, have entertained and challenged their audiences. Plays that are over four hundred years old, written for the boys’ companies and dealing with early modern customs and contexts, have become immediate and accessible. Edward’s Boys are now an identifiable ‘Company’, with the younger members learning from the older. Their speaking of the text is always accurate, swift, full of wit, and totally understandable. Their Director does not cut potentially offensive or transgressive material, with the result that the productions have at times been both hilarious and uncomfortable. Watching these productions during rehearsals and performances, I have witnessed the care and attention that the boys show for both the text and each other.

One afternoon last September at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe was revelatory. 

The piece was ‘Rebellion in Action’, a selection of scenes from Samuel Daniel’s Philotas, part of a two-day examination of Censorship on the early modern stage. Written in c.1604, the play caused offence at its first performance by the Children of the Queen’s Revels apparently since the leading character Philotas so closely resembled the Earl of Essex, who had recently been executed for treason.

Professor John Pitcher (St John’s Oxford) discussed the controversy and scandal surrounding the original production, and his talk was interspersed with scenes from the play performed by members of Edward’s Boys. The intensity of the performance and the varying arguments within the text made it glaringly obvious how very dangerous the play would have been in 1604. Robert Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s Chief Minister, was suspicious of everybody and everything. He saw opposition and danger everywhere, and he controlled a veritable army of agents and spies. This play shouted, “Sedition!” Had Cecil been in the Playhouse last September, he would have had all the performers immediately arrested.

And the Director.

Richard Pearson, The Archive, King Edward VI School