Some Of The Fun Of The Fair: Bartholomew Fair At Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Bartholomew Fair, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse ★★★☆☆

Some Of The Fun Of The Fair: Bartholomew Fair At Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Bartholomew Fair, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse 3
Photo: Marc Brenner

First performed on 31 October 1614, Ben Jonson based Bartholomew Fair on a real fair in Smithfield, known as a ‘vast and rude place’ for shopping, entertainment and new experiences.

Blanche McIntyre’s mad, modern production is a giddying wander through a crowd of strange characters and experiences, and the sort of thing that would work marvellously in the theatre tent at Latitude at 1am, where bizarre plot lines might cohere with a befuddled state of mind.

Photo: Marc Brenner

Here, however, the craziness doesn’t quite stand up under the harsh glare of a stripped back Sam Wanamaker Theatre. Gone is the intimate candlelight and instead Ti Green’s white set is more like the plush waiting room of a Harley Street psychotherapist. It’s oddly clinical, and the in-the-round set-up exposes atmosphere-clashing details like a front row of broadsheet critics looking on sternly.

Photo: Marc Brenner

It’s best viewed as a Jacobean comedy sketch show, just asking you to get swept up in its world. Jenna Augen is genuinely hilarious as obese American preacher Busy, and Bryony Hannah’s Daniel ‘Jordan’ Knockem is physically perfect as a shifty jockey. Jonson’s gambit was to satirise city life and inhabitants on the make. Each scene flows onto the next and should be played for laugh and shock, rather than one heroine or story gluing the whole thing together.

Photo: Marc Brenner

The cast is strong and the play's been edited down succinctly so it never really drags as such. But Bartholomew Fair is a challenging and messy play, which needs a messier context for us to really enjoy all the fun of the fair.

Bartholomew Fair, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT. Tickets from £20, 3 September-12 October 2019.

Last Updated 02 September 2019