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Merely Players

Stage and Television Today, 9th May 1996

Like Purser, Don Taylor was inspired to write a play based on a real-life obsession – in his case with the theatre, and specifically that of Shakespeare’s day. ‘Merely Players’ (A First Writes Radio Production for R4, Monday 29th April) took the cast of Globe in 1601, plunged them into political intrigue, but overlaid it all with humorous, actorish intonations.

A performance of the banned ‘Richard II’ (Queen Elizabeth believed it poked fun at her) incited a rebellion and the actors spent a few days locked up. The real thrust of the piece was in its depiction of the lifestyle and ego of actors. The Globe’s star turn (Ronald Pickup) allowed himself to be flattered by his jailor and went on an illustrated account of his career despite his plight. Shakespeare (Michael Pennington) mocked a heavy-handed speech tacked on to his original text of ‘Richard II’, in which treason is plotted: “Not taking any chance with his metaphors is he?” There was a blustery appraisal of actors’ brains and moans at what happens when a former actor is put on the stage door.

If the Bard did not write for women, the same cannot be said of Taylor, who also directed the piece at a smart pace. Frances Barber played Will’s seductive, sharp-witted mistress while Margaret Tyzack was delightfully barmy as the Queen.

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