Review: Elizabethan ****

Musicals and Opera


TheSpace@ Surgeons Hall, v53

13.05 (ends 25 August)

**** (4 stars)

As we enter a darkened room where a single candle burns on a small table a tall, dark-haired young man in black and red doublet and hose welcomes us – this is Tobias Bacon, singer, lutenist, and dead person, who settles into his chair and serenades us with a charming ditty lauding the health benefits of tobacco…

All the songs in the show are genuine Elizabethan ones – even the one about the many wares including dildos that the singer has for sale. David William Hughes’ aim is to introduce them to people who might otherwise be unaware of this rich mine of songs for all occasions and every emotion, and he certainly succeeded.

Be prepared – if you don’t wish to play a major part in this tale of love, seduction, love, tobacco, love, loss, and death, don’t sit on the front row! In the nicest possible way Tobias invites people to play major characters in his life story and, with clever use of hats and wigs, even to change character [and gender] in the middle of a song.

It’s a hoot, a bawdy entertainment, and a display of consummate musicianship which brings tears to the eyes both of laughter and sadness. David is an excellent singer, able to put over the songs and wisecrack simultaneously – no mean feat. Purists be warned – his lute has a guitar’s neck and stringing, and he was most definitely using guitar chords rather than playing a genuine lute. But who cares? It’s a thoroughly enjoyable way to encounter some of the greatest songs from the extensive Elizabethan lute repertoire – no limp lily singing here but a lusty lad, with all the innuendo in the words made plain, and much wisecracking mid-bar.

Having sung them myself, I’m really happy that he included Dowland’s Come again, sweet love doth now invite and Since first I saw your face. I was really looking forward to what for me is the greatest song of all that repertoire, Flow my tears, but feel its impact was lessened by the preceding comedy – but would anyone else in the audience have cared? They all seemed to have had a ball.

Mary Woodward