The Fair Maid of the West, New Theatre, Exeter, August 26th to September 10th 2011
The public’s appetite for all things piratical continues unabated since Johnny Depp swaggered onto cinema screens as the outrageous Captain Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie back in 2003.
But interest in buccaneers and brigands goes back much further than that, 400 years in fact, as the latest production from South West professional touring theatre company Creative Cow proves.
The Fair Maid of the West, which plays at Exeter’s New Theatre from 26 August – 10 September, was written in 1599 by Thomas Heywood, a contemporary of William Shakespeare. It’s a swashbuckling Elizabethan romp that follows the adventures of Plymouth tavern landlady, Bess Bridges.
In a brawl protecting Bess’s honour, her handsome seafaring lover Spencer kills a man and flees the country to evade police capture.
Bess hears that Spencer has been captured by pirates off the Spanish coast and takes to the sea herself, dressed as a pirate, with a band of like-minded swaggering sailors. They will seek out Spencer and rescue him… fighting the Spaniards all the way. Bess is played by Katherine Senior, co-founder of Creative Cow and the only woman in an all-male cast. She’s not daunted in the slightest by this.
She said: “I come from a large family. On my father’s side there were four uncles, all of which had boys. I was the first girl after 15 boys in the family and this was probably what set the precedent for my early years.”
“When I was 10 years old, I asked my uncle, who was district commissioner for the Scouts, if I could join. A year later I became the very first female Scout in the UK!”
Katherine also started the first girl’s football team at her junior school, rode a motorbike as soon as she turned 16 and for her most recent birthday drove a Ferrari round Goodwood.
She continued: “Being brought up surrounded by hundreds of boys and constantly having to prove my female strength of mind and body, I’m relishing the idea of playing a strong female character from 1599, especially as Thomas Heywood would have written Bess to have been played by a male actor.”
Katherine and the rest of the cast have been put through their paces with intensive fight rehearsals, as there are a lot of spectacular rapier duels in the show as well as fisticuffs.
Mark Ruddick trained them for a series of displays at the Mid Devon Show in July, and the fights on stage will be choreographed by professional Fight Director Toby Gaffney.
Creative Cow is delighted that the cast also includes Exeter’s favourite professional panto dame, Steve Bennett, playing Bess’s staunch ally Roughman.
Spencer is played by Jonathan Parish who is to put it simply, tall, dark and handsome. It looks like Thomas Heywood’s swashbuckling romp, even after four centuries, has something for everyone.
New Theatre, Friars Gate, Exeter from August 26th – September 10th, 7.30pm.
No performances on Sundays or Mondays.
Matinee 2.00pm each Saturday.
Box Office 01392 277189 or 01392 665885 (for credit card bookings)