This new audio play by Simon Butteriss is filled with drama and intrigue but feels as though it could use a little editing in places.
Recorded live on the main stage of Salisbury Playhouse, this richly written audio play by Simon Butteriss is fascinating to listen to due to the care and depth that has gone into each of the characters to enhance the feelings of betrayal and passion nicely.
Set in 17th century Salisbury, the story follows that of young playwright Philip Massinger, who after uncovering the truth about his father’s death and what the young Earl of Pembroke wants in return for his patronage, flees to London to write a play filled with revenge. But he soon finds himself in a larger game of revenge that leads to betrayal and heartbreak.
Written with great poetic style that not only reflects the 17th century but also highlights the power of language and theatre, Butteriss gets the balance of the bawdy humour dotted throughout with genuine feeling just right to keep the audience thoroughly invested in what they are hearing. It is also filled with rich historical references that heightens the sense of danger – particularly in terms of Massinger and John Fletcher’s sensitively written romance and other same-sex relationships the threat of being arrested for treason or sodomy at that time is always lurking.
However, it can also be said that the play has crammed a lot of information into it – particularly in the opening ten minutes which can be difficult to keep up with and adjusting to each scene and location can be slightly difficult. Additional sound effects could have been used to keep audiences informed of exactly where each scene takes place even in a subtle way.
Throughout it all there is a great bite to the wit and story that keeps the pace of the play running nicely – but on occasion perhaps some scenes could have been condensed a little further to keep it running a bit tighter. This being said, thanks to the way in which co-directors Butteriss and Gareth Machin have directed the piece in a subtle way the audience is thoroughly and effectively swept into the 17th century.
The cast themselves are all richly diverse and their performances have a wonderful detail about them that ensures that we understand them – even if some of their actions are relatively dubious (the surprising and shocking ending is a case in point). In particular, Nina Wadia as Mistress Froth and Jane How as Mary, Dowager Countess of Pembroke provide extremely warm and engaging performances, while Julia Hills as the somewhat calculating and manipulative Katherine Mompesson is equally as intriguing. It would be interesting to see this play being performed live on stage with this cast.
While on some level Making Massinger feels slightly too long for an audio play, it is still a very engaging and intriguing listen filled with vividly created characters and a plot that is filled with drama and intrigue – while highlighting the power of theatre to confront issues.
By Emma Clarendon
Making Massinger is available to listen to until the 27th August.