THE first production in Emma Rice’s winter season in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a rare staging of John Milton’s masque Comus – a Masque in Honour of Chastity.
It was originally presented in 1634 before John Egerton, Earl of Bridgewater at Ludlow Castle in celebration of his new post as Lord President of Wales.
Milton’s epic tale, which originally included quite a number of songs, has been whittled down to a mere 90 minutes by director Lucy Bailey and writer Patrick Barlow. And it is an utter joy from start to finish.
It tells the story of The Lady and her brothers who are to perform a masque in honour of their family and to gloss over any former wayward behaviour from its members thus restoring their reputation.
However The Lady refuses to take part much to her father’s disgust. But just when he thinks he’s won her over, all hell breaks loose and The Lady and her two brothers find themselves alone and lost in a “tangled wood”. She then becomes separated from them and is kidnapped by Comus, God of Revelry, and taken with his Monstrous Rout of writhing and cavorting followers, to his lair where he tries to seduce her.
Strapped into a magic chair she resists his advances and enchantments - including drinking something that nowadays would be akin to a date rape drug - before her somewhat hapless brothers burst into the room to rescue her. And the only reason they’ve been able to find her is thanks to the spirit Thyrsis who then has to call on the river god to unstick The Lady from the chair.
Milton’s poetry really does shine through but cleverly the story has been bookended with comedy from Barlow and in the twinkling candle light of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse it is an utter delight, bawdy, silly, saucy, exuberant, raucous and full of fun.
The cast is excellent with stand out performances by Danny Lee Wynter as the tempter Comus and Rob Callender and Theo Cowan as The Lady’s brothers, dressed in lace collared garb.
But it was Philip Cumbus as first the director of the Masque, Henry Lawes and then as the spirit Thyrsis who stole the show with his eye rolling, panics and nods to the audience. Pure unadulterated fun.
Comus – a Masque in Honour of Chastity is on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Bankside until November 19. Visit www.shakespearesglobe.com or call the box office on 020 7401 9919 for full listings.