The Knight of the Burning Pestle

Posted by Laurence Green

Francis Beaumont's anarchic 1607 comedy still strikes a contemporary chord in showing the cruelties of class and money, says Laurence Green.

Knight of the Burning PestleA cross between Blackadder and Monty Python is how you could describe Francis Beaumont’s anarchic 1607 comedy The Knight of the Burning Pestle (Sam Wanamaker playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe).

The Citizen, a grocer in the Strand and his wife are sitting with the audience in the Pit, but the play they are seeing, entitled the London Merchant, doesn’t please them at all, so they hijack the production, passing criticism on theTest characters and bossing about the furious actors. They decide that the action would be improved no end with the insertion of their young apprentice Rafe, who then takes on the role of Don Quixote as a “grocer errant”. The planned story of two men vying for the hand of merchant’s daughter Luce is utterly subverted and much raucousness ensues.

This production staged in the Globe’s new intimate, candlelit space plays up the pratfalls, self-awareness and archly ironic delivery, sending the up the story and characters and at the same time breaking down the relationship between audience and performer. Although the plot is thin, the treatment is complex and at times muddling. I could have done without the brief interludes between each act which halt the comic momentum. Yet the production which can be regarded as a ‘jolly jape’ is certainly full of high spirits and at times very funny, shrewdly balancing romantic satire with civic realism.

Phil Daniels and Pauline McLynn play the troublemaking citizen and his wife with great bravado, while Matthew Needham’s guileless, warm-hearted Rafe grows in stature rather touchingly. Dickon Tyrrellm garbed in dandyish pink and baby blue delivers bad rhyming couplets with gusto as Luce’s foppish suitor Humphrey, and Alex Waldmann strike s the right notes as her penniless true lover, Jasper.   

In short the production would have benefitted from having half an hour cut from its three hour running time, but manages to strike a contemporary chord in showing the cruelties of class and money.


The Knight of the burning pestle

Runs until Sunday 30 March 2014 at Sam Wanamaker playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe.

Box office: 020 7401 9919

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