James Shirley‘s 1641 tragic masterpiece THE CARDINAL, one of the last plays staged in England before Oliver Cromwell’s ban on theatre, this month receives its first major production since the 17th century. This critically lauded rediscovery is directed by Justin Audibert for Troupe Theatre in a limited season now running at London’s Southwark Playhouse until 27 May 2017.
In THE CARDINAL, the state of Navarre is in crisis. An unscrupulous Cardinal (Stephen Boxer) has the ear of the King and is hungry for power. The Duchess Rosaura (Natalie Simpson) longs to marry the Count D’Alvarez, but the Cardinal wants her for his brutish nephew. To tighten his grip on the Kingdom, the ruthless Cardinal will stop at nothing to secure the marriage. But in the Duchess it seems he has finally met his match…
Playwright James Shirley was born in London in 1596. He was the last of the great Elizabethan dramatists linking the Golden Age with the period of the Restoration and the most prolific and highly regarded dramatist during the reign of King Charles I, writing 31 plays. Though no longer regularly performed, his hits of the day included comedies of fashionable London life such as The Witty Fair One (1628), Hyde Park (1632) and The Lady of Pleasure (1635), and tragedies including The Traitor (1631) as well as The Cardinal (1641).
Why has THE CARDINAL gone so long unproduced? How did director Justin Audibert discover it? Why stage an epic, 19-character tragedy in Southwark’s 120-seat Off-West End theatre? All of the cast are Shakespearean alumni: did familiarity with the bard help prepare them for Shirley? And how does it feel playing major roles that have not been interpreted for centuries?
For last night’s Q&A, I was joined by director Justin Audibert, stars Stephen Boxer and Natalie Simpson, as well as fellow cast members Patrick Osborne, Timothy Speyer, Phil Cheadle, Sophia Carr-Gomm, Jay Saighal, Marcus Griffiths and Ashley Cook (who also produces), sound designer and composer Max Pappenheim and assistant director Leigh Toney.
We also had some great questions and insights from the learned audience, including from a man who’d flown in specially from Belfast unable to pass up the opportunity to see this long-lost gem in performance.