Sunday 5 October 2014

The Woman in the Moon - John Lyle - The Rose Theatre ****

Timothy George as Sol with Bella Heesom as Pandora
[Date Written:3rd October 11am London time]
I’m currently typing away from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport awaiting my transfer flight to Munich. While I wait, I thought I’d share with you some of my views of the magical and mysterious play I saw last night at the Rose Playhouse theatre.
The Woman in the Moon by John Lyly is rather unknown however it boasts luscious poetry and blank verse interweaving mythology and stories from Ancient Greece with intriguing notions of Utopia, which deserve a larger audience, and particular attention from, more, theatre companies. It was written during Shakespeare’s day in the 1590s. Shakespeare and Christopher Marlow were, undoubtedly, Lyly’s contemporaries at the time.   
At first, it was ‘presented before her Highnesse’ at court during the Elizabethan era. Since then, it has been performed, but only in a few places; more recently in universities in Pennsylvania, London, Toronto and Sussex. It has also been performed at the Shakespeare Globe as a two-staged reading, the old Bear Gardens Theatre and at last year’s Glastonbury Festival. Following on from Glastonbury, James Wallace directs this unique play dubbed as ‘an astrological sex comedy’ at the Rose, which is the first of its kind after four hundred years.
Lyly found inspiration through an illustration introduced by the astrologist and mathematician Robert Fludd, which underpin renaissance philosophy and its conception of man being made up of the four elements (earth, wind, fire and water) and attributes of the seven celestial planets. The Woman in the Moon puts a woman at the center of this macrocosm that shows how the female form is threatened by forces external to the world around her.

Julia Sandiford as Nature
At the dark and intimate setting of the Rose, with the excavation area speckled with brightly lit umbrellas, we find Pandora, diversely played by Bella Heesom, sleeping soundly in a bed. The Queen of Nature (cast by the eloquent Julia Sandiford) commands and summons her gods, goddesses and handmaids to watch her create the greatest gift on earth; yet the gods selfishly, in turn, manipulate and recreate her personality, emotions and bodily form, which we see through the way she treats her servant Gunophilus (James Thorne) and the four naïve shepherds; Stesias (Joel Davey), Learchus (Rhys Bevan), Iphicles (James Askill) and Melos (Robert Heard) who are enchanted by her beauty. Thorne and the four hapless shepherds are like the seven dwarfs (five dwarfs in this case) that stick together and gather pity from the audience through their clown-like charms and witty catch phrases stylised by Lyle’s words. 
Our four shepherds: Stesias (Joel Davey), Learchus (Rhys Bevan), Iphicles (James Askill) and Melos (Robert Heard)

The comedic aspect of the play is hot and fertile on the Rose theatre's stage with much movement and momentum from all cast members particularly Thorne, Davey, Askill, Heard and Bevan. Davey plays Pandora’s husband who suffers the most in this play as he is plagued with jealousy and goes a bit mad dressed in drag, as Pandora, chasing down whoever maybe condoling with her.

We watch as these mortals loss themselves in Pandora’s temperamental and easily changeable moods which are orchestrated by the multiplicity of the animated gods and goddesses; Saturn (Llywelyn ab Eleri), Jupiter (Gareth Radcliffe), Mars (Adam Cunis), Sol (Timothy George), Venus (Keira Duffy), Mercury (Theo Kingshott) and Luna (Lila Whelan). Each of them are dressed as if they are attended a fancy dress party and depict their godly powers. The most interesting dress goes to Duffy in a long green wig, glittery stilettos and PVC skirt as the temptress Venus. When she reforms Pandora, she sexualises her by showing her how to move her female body and accentuate her curves to groovy dance music.
Bella Heesom as Pandora

Jupiter’s spell makes her proud as he hands her his golden sceptre (and makes an orgasmic sound after). Mars makes her a bit war-like and, rather, scary whilst Mercury makes her sly and cunning which almost divides the shepherds'.

At its conclusion, Nature is angered by the gods’ malicious and greedy intentions with Pandora and give her the choice to choose which god she’d want to stay with for eternity and after hearing Pandora’s argument for and against each of them, she sides with the goddess that I least expected. She chose Cynthia (or Luna) because she made her ‘fickle’, ‘foolish’ and, a tad, mad.
In these last scenes (just before this one), we see Heensom become confused and neurotic, which, marginally, mirrored  how she was under Saturn's control. Having read more about Lyle, I appreciate that he was in favour of womanhood as he said, ‘It is no second thing to be a woman’ yet without taking the feminist stance, I personally think, it may offend some and encourage audiences to think that this was the way Lyle viewed women.

Through and through, the show made the audience laugh which made me think that the outcome would be, a little, light-hearted, yet, for me, this was not the case. I am not insisting that the play is entirely misogynistic. I am aware that the play was written during a time when women weren’t allowed to act on stage and understand how relevant it may have been then, but perhaps not now. Nevertheless, it was a funny show, after all.
The cast gave a triumphant display of a work that should be reproduced again and again. The Rose theatre's successive sold out production is testament of this alongside the intrigue of Lyle's satirical and mesmerising play.

The show has ended however, please click here to view more of the Rose theatre's current and future productions.

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