THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE | London, Barbican

This review contains spoilers throughout.

Does a Russian-language production of a Shakespeare-era English meta-comedy not really grab you? Then you have been woefully misguided! This new co-production between Cheek by Jowl and the Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre is an out-and-out comedy: crazy, silly, and stupid in all the right places. It might have some fancy words on the subtitles, but the whole thing is highly accessible lunacy.

The central conceit of Francis Beaumont’s 1607 comedy is that a “grocer” (Alexander Feklistov) and his wife (Agrippina Steklova), from the audience, interrupt a rather mannered and cliché upper-class living-room drama on the stage, and then simply don’t leave. They don’t really get the point of this turgid tale of poshos; what if instead, their nephew Rafe (Nazar Safonov) could have some fun romping around the stage as a knight, for goodness’ sakes?

The show is designed for touring around the U.K., France, Spain, Poland and Russia. However, there’s some London-specific humour which goes down an absolute treat with a London audience, both in Beaumont’s original London-based script, and in the company’s artfully updated edit. Although the comedy is so good even without subtitles, there are a few moments where it’s nice to read along.

Albeit translated into Russian, and somewhat rewritten, it’s hard to imagine a better interpretation of Beaumont’s deranged farce. The formidable cast ensure a lightness of touch throughout, and somehow keep everything totally believable: you literally can’t predict what will happen next.

The Knight Of The Burning Pestle is only in London 5 – 8 June 2019.

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