The Fair Maid of the West

Our theatrical highlight of December, or possibly of the whole of 2023, was Stratford-upon-Avon's Swan Theatre's adaptation of Thomas Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West. 

What an amazing evening's entertainment, with music, dance and singing, as well as superb acting. We were totally smitten when we realised that the play was produced by Isobel McArthur, the producer of one of our favourite plays Pride and Prejudice (*sort of). She brought the same verve to this performance. In addition, she cast one of the actors from Pride and Prejudice (*sort of) in the role of Clem. She brought the same joy to this role as she brought to her performance of Lizzie.

Such a superb cast who gave us a spirited and sparkling production of this unusual play.

The play was written by Thomas Heywood, possibly originally produced in two parts, and classed as a comedy and melodrama.  The first part written in the late 1590s and the second in the 1630s. The play fits with the many other "fair maid" plays of the same period. In the first act there are references to Queen Elizabeth 1 which would appear to date the play. Interestingly, the play has some contradictions in the performance. The first part feels Elizabethan, whilst the second part more Caroline in style and mannered as most of the plays of the court of Charles 1 were.

Setting The Fair Maid of the West in a pub bridges the centuries and makes the action feel bang up to date. The way that characters behave hasn't changed from how we behave now. The characters are real people that we could meet in any pub. The issues affecting people in the play, still affect us today. I loved the characters reading The Sun, or El Sol (when in Spain!) and moaning about foreigners coming over here, taking our jobs blah, blah, blah. Sadly so true about people in any pub, in any century.

What a wonderful evening, and definitely one of the best productions we have seen at the Swan Theatre. Sheer bliss!