The Knight of the Burning Pestle - reviews of theatre romp

Mar 4, 2014

Revival of experimental Jacobean comedy is a metatheatrical delight with a hint of Spamalot

Alastair Muir

What you need to know

A revival of Francis Beaumont's experimental Jacobean comedy The Knight of the Burning Pestle has opened at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe in London. The play was written in 1607 to be performed at the Blackfriars playhouse by the Children of the Queen's Revels.

The Knight of the Burning Pestle is an early metatheatrical mash-up of screwball comedies and chivalric romances from the Jacobean era. In it, a grocer and his wife are at the theatre but when they become bored with the play they are watching, they decide to improve the show by inserting their young apprentice into the story. Directed by Adele Thomas. Runs until 30 March. 

What the critics like

This boisterous production takes Francis Beaumont's burlesque of citizen drama and chivalric romance off the academic shelf and "gives it new life", says Michael Billington in The Guardian. Lively performances all round make this a metatheatrical romp.

It's "a Pythonesque amalgam of mock-chivalric scenes", am-dram adventure, romantic intrigues and whimsical interruptions, says Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph. There is a surfeit of ham acting, rowdy revelry, capering foolery, groaning couplets, slapstick and silliness, but the experience is an energising one and sweetly stirring, too.

This early satire by Francis Beaumont "turns out to be a delight in a vibrant production from talented young director Adele Thomas", says Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard. There are frolics aplenty — and more than a hint of Spamalot

What they don't like

It's a tricky play to negotiate for everyone, "its form is complex, sometimes downright muddling", and the cast sometimes overwork it, says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. If you want easy parody, stick to Spamalot, but if you've got patience, and a desire to discover something old that feels surprisingly new, give this one a go.

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