Although this staged reading of seventeenth-century playwright Catherine Trotter’s The Fatal Friendship is a work in progress, with an eye on a full production as part of a festival to coincide with International Women’s Day in 2017 – the potential on show in this 90 minute, script-in-hand, stripped-back Restoration Comedy frivolity is very exciting.
As the lighting, sound and costume design is so scarce it is difficult to imagine entirely director Alex Pearson’s finished production, but staging this reading in the atmospheric half-excavated ruins of The Rose Playhouse is certainly an interesting choice, considering that the theatre had been largely abandoned by the start of Trotter’s career. Nonetheless, this choice of venue draws attention in particular to the rather honourable purpose of The Rose’s season: namely, to explore the influence of women on theatre throughout history. Proud feminists can rejoice at the fact that the entire series (The Fatal Friendship included) is written, directed and performed entirely by women.
Some minor issues with props, which will definitely be ironed out in time, and the inevitable irritations which come with using scripts aside – the reading is a rather enjoyable one. The cast of eight women of all ages are strong vocally and grapple with the sometimes antiquated dialogue with ease. Megan Pemberton as Gramont – the accidental husband to two women – and Rhiannon Sommers as Felicia – his first, dedicated wife – both show glimpses of great comic timing, which will undoubtedly become even more apparent when more familiar with the script and characters. Both nearly always make full use of the dramatic irony, innuendo and physical humour, the latter being as familiar to a modern-day audience as it was to those watching in the 1600s.
The direction is at times meandering off on different paths, and it would have been great to see, for example, the utilisation of an all-female cast taken advantage of with a stronger sense of emulated masculinity in the male characters. Similarly, the real humour in the writing could have been exploited further with more stylised performances as, to modern audiences, a lot of the lines are melodramatic and over-emotional.
The production will benefit from more time in rehearsal to get the short exchanges between characters snappy and full of energy. Similarly, bold decisions in design and direction will make for a fantastic overall production of a neglected play. I am in hope for an ambitious and adventurous polished production in time, to match the excellent concept put forward by the season, and I cannot wait to see the finished product next March.
The Fatal Friendship is playing The Rose Playhouse, London until September 11, as part of a season of six seventeenth-century female works which run until September 17. For more information and tickets, see www.roseplayhouse.org.uk