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Lights of London Productions Present

The Magnetic Lad

By Ben Jonson

Directed by Elizabeth Elstub

White Bear Theatre

7 – 25 Sept








A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Ben Jonson's comedy is too convoluted and clever for its own good, and this is one of the very few times it has been performed since he wrote it, and the first professional UK adaptation. The genius of this production is to set it in the 1930s, at once bringing together the turbulent mid 17th century Caroline era of Charles I's reign leading up to Cromwell's protectorate, and the stylish but politically edgy inter-war period brilliantly brought to life by the art-deco style decor and costumes (Catherine Wheaton).  It was almost two hours of witty repartee delivered at break-neck speed by a huge cast for such a small stage who did Ben Jonson justice, keeping for the most part to the original play, but lifting its tortuous twists and turns with sparkle and froth to give a surprisingly modern feel to this farce.

The names of the characters reveal their 'Humours' (the play was subtitled, 'Humours Reconciled') with the wealthy Lady Loadstone (Maggie Robson) heading an unruly female household in search of a husband for her niece Placentia (Jennifer Shakesby) whose name and great belly suggest they need to find one very soon. Placentia is mirrored by the angelic Pleasance (Juliet Lundholm) who waits on her. Pleasance is the daughter of the Machiavellian Mistress Polish (Darrie Gardner), Placentia's governess and would-be mistress of the house, but all is not as it seems, babies have been switched in cradles and the plot proceeds to knot. Master Compass (Michael Bagwell) is clearly the man to sort everything out and he leads a cast of male suitors to Placentia who gather for a dinner party including the delightfully dandyish Sir Diaphanous Silkworm (Anthony Acosta), Master Practice the callow lawyer (Matt Mowat) and Master Bias (Andrew Chevaier) the oily civil servant. An argument breaks out between the pugnacious Captain Ironside (Jonathan Benda) and the hysterical Sir Diaphanous at table which precipitates Placentia's labour and reveals her condition. She is attended by the droll Dr Rut (Sanjay Sutar) who had misdisgnosed her with dropsy, and the wonderful Maggie Robson appears again as the fiendishly clever Irish midwife Mother Chair. Meanwhile, the money grubbing uncle, Sir Moth Interest, schemes to keep the large dowry in his clutches. In fact all the characters have some personal agenda to pursue, so the action requires fierce concentration in order to follow everything that's going on and to get the double entendres and jokes flying to and fro. Help is given at intervals by the servants Master Needle (Billy Knowles) and Mistress Keep (Sharron Byrne) who address the audience with plot digests and homilies which help to concentrate the mind. When Master Compass has won his heart's desire and lined his pocket to boot, he breaks into a charming song and dance routine with his bride, singing 'I'm in Heaven' quite beautifully.

This is a really ambitious project, and the audience actually looked stunned just because there was so much to take in. I admire the tenacity and energy of all involved in this enormously ambitious production although I'm not sure Ben Jonson's complex tangle of misunderstandings, mishaps and marriage deserves the attention. If Ben Jonson's argument is that a household of women can only lead to chaos without the firm management of sensible men like Master Compass, the fact that women have run households and much more with great success throughout history proves him wrong.


White Bear Theatre
 138 Kennington Park Road, London, SE11 4DJ
7th September – 25th September: Tues- Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5:30pm
Tickets: £13/£10 concs
Box office: 020 7793 9193




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