(reviewed at the SirJohn Mills Theatre, Ipswich on 9 December)
Eastern Angles’ Christmas show is a Pat Whymark and Julian Harries confection, which means that it’s literate, tuneful and lethally clever – at times a little too much so for its own good. There’s a lot of cod as well as real Shakespeare and a whole series of riffs to do with Richard III and Henry VIII, not to mention tranches of East Anglian as well as national history, legend, might-have-beens and architecture.
That all means that I thoroughly enjoyed Stoat Hall, but perhaps partly because it tweaked some of my own interests. There’s an extremely hard-working cast of five, switching stage gender as adroitly as role, costume and set accessories. At the centre of the imbroglio is poor Sir Roger (Richard Mainwaring) who has the misfortune to have close blood ties to both the last Plantagent and the second Tudor kings.
Not to mention a crone of a grand-mother Agnes (Violet Patton-Ryder), a wilful wife and a daughter who takes after her (Geri Allen in both roles), a love-sick jester Perch (Matt Jopling) and a sinister in-house alchemist John Dee (Patrick Neyman, who also plays the second, stroppily butch daughter Hedwig). When Henry arrives on a wife-hunting mission, things start going even more wrong.
The music is suitably 16th century pastiche; the cast provide the instrumental accompaniments. Designer Richard Evans works his own particular magic with a very small acting area, ornamented by a whole series of pop-up and pop-out puppets. Not to mention an interesting variation on an autopsy. Don’t worry, no animals (two- or four-legged) were hurt during the procedure.
Stoat Hall runs at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich until 7 January. It then plays at the Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge between 10 and 21 January and at the Key Theatre Studio, Peterborough from 24 to 28 January. Check the theatre’s website (easternangles.co.uk) for performance times.