Report by: Peter Parlour on Saturday 25 March 2017 Venue: Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond Director: Gregan Davis
The play is set in the herbal garden at the rear of Hall’s Croft, Stratford and tells the story of Susanna Hall, Shakespeare’s eldest daughter, her unhappy marriage to Dr John Hall and her affair with the local haberdasher Rafe Smith. Later in the play an accusation of adultery leads to a court case in which Susanna defends her honour.
This was an excellent production, a very wordy play brilliantly acted by the entire cast. Susanna was excellently portrayed by Alice Johnson and her husband Dr John Hall was powerfully portrayed by Warnock Kerr. Rafe Smith, the haberdasher and neighbour of the Halls, was superbly played by Bruce Cunningham. Jack Lane, apprentice to Dr John Hall, was wonderfully played by Ed Batchelor; he did put everything into his part. The Halls’ servant, Hester Fletcher, was very well portrayed by Helena Langford. The Halls’ young daughter Elizabeth was well played by Jaime-Anais Gilpin.
Susanna is accused of committing adultery and of having gonorrhoea. She brings a charge of defamation against the slanderer in the Diocesan Court at Worcester. The Bishop of Worcester was ideally played by Martin Ash and the Vicar General of the Cathedral, Barnabas Goche, was powerfully played by Charlie Grumbley, whose character’s cross-examination in the case gradually and intriguingly attempts in vain to expose a web of lies. The author, Peter Whelan, described the play as a work that came close to ‘what being human is about - the survival of our relationships and the lies that honest people tell’.
The herb garden set, which was featured for most of the play, was excellent and the director, Gregan Davis, must have been delighted with the production. As the play had not been performed often in the north, he knew he would need a strong cast to tell the powerful story. And he found the ideal cast to do just that!
This was drama at its very best and really was very well done by the society. All change next when we are going down Farndale Avenue in complete contrast for their 'Murder Mystery'. Well done, Richmond.
The Herbal Bed is based on actual events which occurred in Stratford-upon-Avon in the summer of 1613, when William Shakespeare’s eldest daughter Susanna was publicly accused of having a sexual liaison with Rafe Smith, a married neighbour and family friend. Despite a recanting by her accuser, the young Jack Lane, the following month Susanna sues for slander in the court of Worcester Cathedral.
Susanna’s husband, the respected physician of Stratford John Hall, is desperate for her to clear her name in order to save his practice and he gives her his complete support - but how can he avoid the fact that one summer’s night while he was away from Stratford, Rafe Smith was seen secretly leaving their herbal garden? Faced with political divisions within the church, the hearing in the bishop’s court becomes a risky gamble as three people’s private lives are held up to the glare of intense public scrutiny in this emotional thriller whose outcome is anything but certain.