Reviewed by Richard Lane
Based on a true incident and written in 1997, Peter Whelan’s “The Herbal Bed” brings Shakespearian mores into the 21st Century. But the question is asked , how does that sit with modern audiences?
This stylish production in the hands of Director Sally Putnam does everything to encourage our absorption in the Shakespearian world, though the piece is rather long, particularly the scene wherein Dr Hall is teaching his neer- do-well, disinterested apprentice Jack Lane, the rudiments of mixing herbs.
Susanna Hall, daughter of the Bard and beautiful wife of celebrated herbalist Dr John Hall is accused by drunken layabout and wastrel Lane of being “naughty” with Rafe Smith, haberdasher to the Hall family. In response, she takes Lane to the ecclesiastical court where he is dismissed as a slanderer. Susanna is tried afterwards by the irascible, suspicious Vicar General Barnabas Goche in an “informal” inquisition,” found innocent-or more accurately, “not proven.” This, despite the issue that her husband , Rafe Smith, servant Hester and everybody else realises that the accused is only telling part truths. This saves a whole lot of bother for the family. Dr Hall’s name is preserved-and isn’t that all that matters in a puritanical and patriarchal society?
Bill Ramsay “knocked up”(his words) a bare bones set which works well, allowing plenty of stage movement, and Alice de Rohan, Meg Turville and Sally Putnam’s costumes were excellent and appropriate for the garden.
Performances were generally good despite a slightly uneven cast. Peter Smith in the role of Bishop Parry, tended towards caricature and Tamara Bennetts as servant Hester, as true to her role that she was, had occasional problems projecting her voice.
As John Hall, Peter Davies was authoritative and majestic while Nicole Rutty as Susanna played her role gracefully and with great integrity. Rutty carries herself beautifully. Stephen Parker’s Rafe Smith was strong and dignified. Susanna and Rafe’s erotic love scene in the garden under award winning lighting designer Larraine Wheeler’s wonderful shimmering stars is worth the price of admission alone!
Tony Busch as Barnabas Goche (whose name betrays his character) was superb but the gong goes to Oliver de Rohan for his portrayal of loll- about herbalist’s apprentice and venegeful, spiteful slanderer Jack Lane. His fall from grace in the last scene was total and pathetic.