On Sunday I attended only my second Read Not Dead staged performance – this time it was Love’s Pilgrimage, by John Fletcher (1647). It tells the story of Theodosia & Leocadia, two young women in love with the same man (the womaniser Mark-Antonio). He has left them both to join the army, so they set off in pursuit dressed as boys, though Theodosia is soon discovered by her brother Philippo. They, in turn, are pursued by their fathers and eventually track Mark-Antonio down in Barcelona; he, of course, has managed to get himself into trouble whilst there. Thankfully, it all ends well – and there are lots of laughs along the way.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of Read Not Dead performances (which I was, until I turned up to my first one in October 2014!), scripts are given out at the start of the day and the play is put together & rehearsed before the audience is let in for a 4pm show. The cast read from their scripts and make do with what they can easily lay their hands on by way of props. I seem to remember the pirates in A Christian Turn’d Turk using giant party poppers in place of cannon… So you get the idea!
The series is a great way to get to know some lesser known works, from less celebrated writers. If you think of the 16th & 17th centuries, the name that immediately springs to mind is William Shakespeare – but there were plenty of of others! I’m reliably informed that John Fletcher was actually more famous at the time than the Bard.
Love’s Pilgrimage was a very entertaining return to the series for me. It was lovely being back in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (I still haven’t seen an actual show there though!) and amidst fellow theatre enthusiasts. There were some hugely memorable performances, especially Shaun Prendergast (Incubo), Freddie Hutchins (Mark-Antonio), Bill Bingham (Leonardo) & Mathew Foster (Philippo). Emma Pallant is also particularly brilliant as Eugenia, the Governor of Barcelona’s wife – what is interesting is that she ends up taking charge & resolving the quarrels to end the play. The majority of the characters are male, but there is a real emphasis on finding some sort of gender equality as it goes along. It has certainly whet my appetite, and I will be searching out more of Fletcher’s works where I can (I had previously only heard his name as a collaborator with Shakespeare on a couple of plays).
If you’re interested in theatre from that time in history, and have never been before, I highly recommend going to one of the Read Not Dead series. There is quite a bit of choice at the Sam Wanamaker this year, so I am hopeful of making a return myself. It’s a bargain at £15 a ticket for roughly 3 hours of entertainment – and you might even learn something!