views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

A Trick to Catch the Old One
The Rose
10th May 2014


Jonathon Reid and Alexandra Ryall as Theodorus Witgood and the courtesan

Photography provided by The Rose

It's official, the sun is out and Shakespeare season is in full swing. When it comes to fringe, there are always noticeable trends. Sometimes it's a particular playwright in vogue, at others, it's a style of theatre that's popular. If you've reached saturation point as far as the Bard goes - and yes, it does happen to the best of us - theatre company Mercurius are currently staging A Trick to Catch the Old One at the Rose. It's a play by another Jacobean playwright, Thomas Middleton, and one which matches the spirit of the venue perfectly.

As a contemporary of Shakespeare, Middleton writes with the same 17th-century dialogue and thus his work presents the same language difficulties to those who haven't taken the time to read up in advance. However, Jenny Eastop recognises this hurdle and compensates by having the actors use some very overblown gestures and expressions. This helps keep the audience fully engaged with the story, rather than desperately trying to figure out what's going on. The language quickly becomes accessible by osmosis.

Protagonist Theodorus Witgood (Jonathon Reid) has fallen on tough times. Not only does he owe money to external creditors (Michael Watson-Gray and Alana Ross), but his uncle, Pecunius Lucre (Cameron Robertson) has a charge over all his lands. With the help of a pretty courtesan (Alexandra Ryall) with whom he is intimately acquainted, Witgood decides to solve all his problems by pretending to be engaged to a wealthy widow, and getting one over his uncle. Just for good measure, he also tries to deceive his uncle's enemy, Walkadine Hoard (Stephen Good). Why trick one man when you can trick two?

There are some well-thought out touches - the row of watches in the coat of the one of Witgood's dodgy creditors, the Art Deco signage and the furtive scene changes covered by only music and mock embarrassment. And Eastop does make use of the back of The Rose, which frankly should be mandatory for any visiting company. If you're going to put on a show in a venue that's still being dug up, don't shy away from that.

Despite this attention to detail, there are however a few curious slips. Initially the clothing seems to belong in the 1960s, but the period flits back and forth through the 20th century, eventually settling around the 1940s. It's distracting, but isn't enough to take the audience out of the moment.

A Trick to Catch the Old One is a wonderfully funny production, with the weakest aspect the writing itself - something it's hard to blame the company for. The story is relatively uncomplicated - Witgood sets out to trick Lucre and Hoard and well, without spoiling much, that's what he does. There aren't any boys dressed up as girls dressed up as boys, long-lost and later reunited twins or cruel tragedies intertwined with passionate romances. This is a more straightforward comedy packed full of bawdy humour.

Running at 90 minutes straight through, Eastop has the pacing just right. A Trick to Catch the Old One promises plenty of laughs, excellent acting (the supporting cast do a stellar job) and a lot of fun. If you're not a fan of older plays because you equate the age of the writing with how inaccessible it might be, let Mercurius prove you wrong.

A Trick to Catch the Old One ran from 6th to 24th May 2014 at The Rose.

Nearest tube station: London Bridge (Jubilee, Northern)

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