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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Eastward Ho!
Gielgud Theatre     Winter 2002-03

This 1605 collaboration between Ben Jonson, John Marston and George Chapman has a reputation among scholars as a rude, lively and even dangerous comedy - a few throwaway lines satirising the Scots actually got the authors imprisoned by officers of the new Scottish King James I.

But whatever vitality or edge it may have had seems to have been lost on the way to this limp RSC production, which limps along (in the other meaning of the word) with far too little rhythm, comedy or theatrical life.

A London merchant has two daughters, a sensible one who marries a nice hard-working boy who rises in the City, and a vain and ambitious airhead who marries an impoverished peacock knight.

He immediately steals her dowry and sets sail for America, but gets no further than a storm on the Thames. He and his cohorts are caught, imprisoned, repentant, forgiven - and youšll have a hard time caring.

This is one of the least life-affirming comedies I've ever encountered, as the errant characters aren't just ridiculed but punished until they repent at such great length and excessive zeal that you half-hope it's all tongue-in-cheek.

No such luck, though. Puritanism was in the air, and if the three authors weren't too politically clever, they did know which way the moralistic winds were blowing.

And Lucy Pitman-Wallace's direction simply can't make this illustrated sermon come alive. The potentially comic characters are not silly enough, the described-in-the-dialogue-as-excessive costumes are not exaggerated enough, the pace is not snappy enough, the acting not broad enough.

Geoffrey Freshwater as the father manages to get some sympathy and even some laughs out of what is really the straight-man role.

Amanda Drew occasionally catches some of the silliness of the vain daughter, and Billy Carter has a few moments of energy as a fun-loving rascal (It is his catch-phrase, a call to adventure, that gives the play its title) before a particularly soppy repentance.

This is the only one of the current RSC season of Shakespeare's contemporaries that I can't recommend, not even to Elizabethan scholars, who probably have a better image of the play in their minds than they'll find here.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Eastward Ho! - RSC at Gielgud Theatre 2002
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