The Sam Wanamaker Theatre: The Knight of The Burning Pestle

It has been a bumpy week, highs, lows and disappointments but all these were forgotten on Thursday afternoon when I went to see The Knight of the Burning Pestle at the newly added Sam Wanamaker theatre.

Interior of The Sam Wanamaker Theatre Image Not My own

Interior of The Sam Wanamaker Theatre Image Not My own

Firstly the theatre itself. Those of you familiar with the foyer of the globe will see that the box office and information has been opened up on the ground level there is now a café.

The gift shop is still on the second floor but where the small coffee stand was is now additional book stands with books to buy. I was disappointed that the range of literature on offer was still predominately Shakespeare. This exciting new space could have had a little section in the shop.

The upper level entrance had a small bar and seats and the volunteers who so generously give up their time were as always cheerful and helpful. I have to say it will be interesting to see how the space works when both the Globe and the Sam Wanamaker theatre are in full swing in the summer.

Stunning painted ceiling Image NOT my own

Stunning painted ceiling Image NOT my own

10 minutes to performance and the doors open I was on the upper gallery. I found my seat. On entering it was magical. Starting with the ceiling it is beautifully painted with a scène that would not look out of place in a small chapel in Italy, the sun depicted with a Madonna like woman surrounded by stars and cherubs the moon. The wood interior (with the exception of the metal rails and nails all wood) is new and clean in its new state.

The lighting is supplied by candelabra 6 in total over the stage holding about a dozen candles ago. These were lit theatrically by actors whooping and squeaking as a way of communicating to the stage hand controlling the ropes.

Unlike the Globe the wooden seats have cushions on them. They are more comfortable than the globe with a cushion however the metal rail to lean on his hard going on your arms and joints. It was a 3 hour performance and the 4 minute interludes (3 in total) and the 15 minute interval were welcome for a stand up and stretch – in the interludes ice cream water beer and wine are sold off trays (if there were oranges you could image Nell Gwen selling them)

Image NOT My own

Image NOT My own

The space is very intermit I guess the space holds between 300-50 people.  The better seats are defiantly I the ground and lower levels. There is standing room in this theatre but unlike the globe the standees are in the back of the stalls and not the front of the stage.

The stage is a fraction of the size of the globes but very much perfectly formed and the orchestra pit above the stage  wonderful. Bewear though taking the seats in the music stall with musicans and the stalls either side the music and sound effects can be very loud!

In short the theatre is like a tardis you feel you have entered into a time long ago, cocooned in candle light in close proximity of your fellow audience members.

The play its self is early Jacobean it was first performed in 1607 and published in 1613 thus on the cusp of change, the language is more modern to the ear, the costume more Tudor, the feel more pantomime than historical play.

The play write is Francis Beaumont  a play write that mostly worked with Dramatist John Fletcher. His only solo works were the Knight of the Burning Pestle and The masque of the InnerTemple and GraysInns. (performed 20 February 1613) something I would love to see as I worked in Grays Inn.

Burning Pestle was seen as old fashioned satire and was not well

Image not my own

Image not my own

received having sat through it for 3 hours those people had no taste or humor as I don’t think I have laughed so hard in such a long time.

Some of the works he and Fletcher worked on include:

  • The Woman Hater 1606
  • The Maids Tragedy 1609
  • Loves Pilgrimage 1616

The Knight of The Burning Pestle is a play in a play were a merchant grocer and his wife go to the pay house but interrupt and run amuck with the play as they are fed up of watching plays about the rich. They force their apprentice to join the players in a rival story lie and the two plays run side by side.

The audience was actually encouraged to interact and his boo and cheer 17th Century panto for adults. The end result a slap stick comedy meets musical and an apprentice of merchant class renamed the knight of the burning pestle. Witty, face paced, and in the words of Julia Roberts in pretty woman “it was so good I nearly pee-ed  my pants” I haven’t laughed this hard in a very long time.

The merchant’s wife is was played by Pauline McLynn and she proved that she is definitely more than Father Teds housekeeper, Mrs Doyle. Brilliant comic timing and  very amusing.

There was everything you need from a good play, love loss, death singing, knights and adventure. Think Monty Pythons Holy Grail meets Albert Square.

The play runs until 30th March but if this is one of the first offerings from the new playhouse I will be back!   


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