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by Paul Foster
Late 1500s, the apogee of Elizabeth's reign. A touring company of Elizabethan players performing their version of 'Elizabeth I' on a street platform in Shoreditch, London.
Review by John Thaxter for Richmond and Twickenham Times (April 1987)Youth Action Theatre of Hampton Court Theatre this week renews its aquaintance with the work of New York playwright Paul Foster. In a spirited and large cast version of his 1972 cod pageant Elizabeth the First, they represent a sixteenth century troupe of strolling players, touring a show about the politics and personalities of their own time - with interruptions by local big-wigs and the monarch himself.
The production - in the diamond jubilee year of the parent company Teddington Theatre Club - is Eric Yardley's fortieth with YAT, revealing him to be both an inspirational director of young actors and a theatrical risk taker.
Sadly, for the opening performance too many TTC members were staying away, seemingly unprepared to take a chance on an unusual offering. But the doubters should be sure to buy tickets for the last two performances tonight and tomorrow, and I can promise that they won't be bored.
Everyone will get some fun from this sharp Yankee eyeview of English history, couched in modern English apart from the occasional historical speeches. Bets of all, they will see a group of talented youngsters using living theatre to show the processes and political shenanigans that brought us into the dawn light of the first Elizabethan age.
This is a company show: the members work together as an ensemble. But there is no doubting that auburn haired Eleanor Baker as "the young player" Queen Elizabeth is star of the evening, perhaps touched by the greatness of the role. And when, on Monday evening, some young gallants in the audience threw her a floral tribute at curtain call, is seemed no more than was due to a monarch who gave us our first taste of freedom and enlightenment.
Opposing her are Bronwen Davies' scheming Catherine of France and Giles Porter's formidable Philip of Spain with plans for conquest. But everyone is short of money for war, which means a series of trips to Aidan Paddick's crafty Jewish money-lender in the most amusing scenes of the evening.
The plight of Emma Higgingson's dignified Mary, Queen of Scots, is dramatised in some splendid set pieces culminating in a tense execution scene, beautifully staged in Graham Osborne's astonishing multi-level Tudor courtyard. And the whole company combines to represent the cut and thrust of public and private lives, culminating in the defeat of the Armada - represented by opposing flags - and the birth of modern England.
Chris Ivey has a ringing voice and fine carriage as the Chorus. And Nancy Brown is amusingly sinister as a Snow White-like witch with an apple stirring up trouble. Anthony Early, who plays some sly characters in the play, has also written special lyrics, set to simple but effective music by Clive Stott, with brass contributions by Alan Jamieson.
The production has been entered for the Richmond Arts Council amateur drama awards sponsored by this newspaper.
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