Before this play, my knowledge of author John Lyly as derived from some forgotten Eng Lit handbook was confined to him writing something called Euphues and it being very boring. But I was curious anyway.
Sol/Apollo prologues to the effect that what we are about to see is the poet’s dream, about a woman in the moon. Then we are in mythical times (on earth, not the moon–it took me some time to work that out). Nature has created lots of nice things, including four shepherds. They feel the need for a woman so that they can perpetuate their species. So Nature kindly creates Pandora, who is lovely in every respect.
But then the planets, annoyed at having been overlooked, turn up and decide to exert their influence on her in turn. So for instance Mars makes her martial and she fights very convincingly with the four swains when she is under his influence. And the thing goes along in this way–Pandora is (as it were, in this prelapsarian time) betrothed to Stesias but his compeers Melos, Learchus and Iphicles would also like to get to know the only woman in the universe. This intrigue tangles itself up anew each time Pandora’s character is influenced a different way.
That sounds as though it could be Lyly pedantically demonstrating his classical learning and proving some theorem along the lines of ‘Every Man In His Humour’, and there were indeed times at the beginning when I looked at my watch not infrequently. It also sounds as though it might be an extended audition piece for Bella Heesom, the actress playing Pandora, but she was very very very very good, so we didn’t care. All of the performances were more securely-delineated than is often this case, pointing to the fact that this show had been aired before in various guises (at Glastonbury and as a reading at the Globe).
There were quite a few entirely genuine laughs from the audience as well as some real poetry in Pandora’s little mad scene. The production was both economical and attractive, and made good use of the space behind the Rose’s playing area.
At the end, the swains have grown tired of Pandora, and she can decide which of the planets’ spheres she wants to be transported to. She chooses Cynthia/Luna/the Moon as being fickle, foolish, fanciful, slothful and generally female. (Of course, we sense some contradiction here since the main characters are Fortune and Pandora, both female, and Pandora gets a very high proportion of the lines–and the female characters would have been played by boys…)
Apart from the programmes having run out so that I don’t know who was who, my only reservation would be that I don’t really think this is a piece of ‘legitimate’ theatre as presented here–it could usefully have had more and better music, dancing and singing, and I think it’s really something in the nature of a masque or a musical comedy.
But enough!–This blog urges you to go and see the show–it’s lovely!