Home » Reviews » Off West End » Bussy D’Ambois, Poets Church: St Giles in the Fields – Review

Bussy D’Ambois, Poets Church: St Giles in the Fields – Review

George Chapman
Directed by Brice Stratford
The Owle Schreame Theatre Company
★★★ 
Pros: Excellent movement and choral effort. Impressive sword action, entertaining and unorthodox.
Cons: Lighting is too bright and detracts from the atmosphere. Some lines were difficult to hear in this setting.
Our Verdict: Commendable effort in bringing a 400 year old script to modern life. Well worth the 5 pound ticket cost for an evening of lustfully demonic theatre in creepy environs.
Courtesy of Cannibal Valour
As part of the Cannibal Valour festival of Jacobean revivals masterminded by the tremendously courageous artistic director and actor Brice Stratford, Bussy D’Ambois is perhaps the only one not completely unknown to this generation, having been staged in 1988 at the Old Vic Theatre. Brice´s adaptation is the second recorded in modern history. The other two plays in the festival, The Unfortunate Mother by Thomas Nabbes and Honoria and Mammon by James Shirley are effectively world premieres as there is no record of attempts to produce these 400 year-old plays in modern times. All three plays spill over with blood, sex, torture and demons and are suitably performed at the graves of their authors – an intriguingly creepy choice by The Owle Schreame Theatre Company
All three authors are still lying buried at the famous Poets Church of St Giles in Covent Garden. So, it is with an open heart, devilish anticipation and a few cloves garlic in my pocket that I approached the venue, cautiously choosing a seat that did not appear to be directly above the author´s decomposed body. I must say, the setting was impressive. A proper chapel, that is with all the lovely benches and carved altars, stained windows and gothic chandeliers. Suddenly the experimental theatre kicked off; the choir was singing and King Henry III came along, complete with his courtesans dressed in simple but effective period costumes. There was no stage light dimming, so we were all looking at each other in bright church lights and soon became part of the play itself, with actors sitting next to us and action coming from every angle of the chapel.

The Jacobean-era dialogue is fortunately reworked to modern ears by Stratford, and with a bit of effort it is possible to follow the storyline. This involves an unemployed Bussy proudly defiant in the face of his incumbent poverty, criticising the corrupted Royalty, moments before accepting to put his skilled sword at the service of cynical politician Monsieur, played by Christopher Elderwood. Trouble soon ensues, leading to an ambitious six-way sword fight that will only end lots of blood and guts later. Marvellous choreography ensures the fight is one of the highlights for audience, although the demons dancing around Behemoth (Oliver Maxwell) in a later scene were my personal favourite. The demons are summoned by an infuriated Count Montsourry (Otis Waby) to lure Bussy into a formidable trap in an act of retribution. Gore, sex and torture are among the buzzwords advertising this play and for good reason – all inside a church, which I never knew was even legal!

Chapman’s script is a vivid representation of political and moral corruption and Stratford manages to translate this into the 21st Century with an engaging and interesting adaptation. The use of space was inventive and worked well overall, but only if the audience is willingly to work a little too in following the story. The bright lighting I thought detracted from the overall experience but the choreography by Francesca Bridge-Cicic more than made up for it. Multi-talented Stratford also gives a strong performance, though felt a little woody in some scenes. Rosalyn Mitchell as the Count’s wife is passionate and impressive, and overall the cast put great effort into this unorthodox adaptation.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Bussy d’Ambois runs in rep at the Poets Church, St-Giles-In-the-Fields until 13th December 2013.
Book online at : http://www.owleschreame.ticketsource.co.uk/

About Everything Theatre

Everything Theatre
Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.
  • Anonymous

    Thoroughly enjoyed this- saw it at Hallowe’en and it was spell binding! Fabulous venue, talented actors and great direction; an excellent evening.

    I saw the matinee performance of ‘The Unfortunate Mother’ which was equally enjoyable ( if that is the right word for murder and mayhem…)- The Owle Schreame Theatre has brought these plays to life with energy and imagination – can’t wait for the third in the rep season!. A great experience!

  • Anonymous

    I may be the only person to have seen both modern productions of this play, the one under review and the 1988 one at the Old Vic directed by Jonathan Miller. I have to say that the Owle Schreame version is much better. My conclusion from the Old Vic production was that Chapman is an author to be read rather than watched – full of fiery, convoluted, very Elizabethan poetry, but which doesn’t come to life in performance. This new production convinces me that I was wrong. The cast are energetic, the playtext has been intelligently cut and re-arranged, and the staging makes the best use of the atmospheric St Giles church (although the churchy acoustic is less than ideal). I would really like to see this production performed in a purpose-built modern theatre like the RSC’s Swan at Stratford, with the same cast and director. Overall, terrific value for a fiver!

    (Reviewer: Robin James)