Philobiblon: The oldies: off with their heads

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The oldies: off with their heads

Eugenia is a frustrated woman. Even atom of her body aches to be free of her aged husband, to throw herself, with his money, into the gay life of youth that is hers by right of her birthdate. He, however, is destined to die soon, on a set date, the date that he turns four-score years of age, for that is the decree of an absolute monarch, Duke Evander of Epire. Women get only three score, and those of no further use can be bumped off even earlier, should their relatives so request.

That's the scenario that guides A New Way to Please You, written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley in about 1618. Then, a scholarly essay in the programme indicates, there were all sorts of issues around conflict over the Common Law; indeed its original subtitle was The Old Law. Now, while that's all history, the central clash of the play - between young and old - is still fresh, and ensures that this modern dress production seldom seems anachronistic.

The Royal Shakespeare Company production is part of Gunpowder season, marking the anniversary of that monumental plot. Yet this is a play that today is less about politics on the big stage than the personal politics within families. Eugenia - gloriously played by Miranda Colchester in the midst of a typically fine ensemble cast - made her pact with her bank balance in marrying the old man, but thinks she's paid an adequate price. READ MORE.


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