High tragedy is a brave route for student drama to pursue. High comedy is the same. This new English dramatisation of La Chatelaine de Vergi (Chastity on the Verge), however, is rather firm in its defence of the middle ground. We’re not supposed to cry, but nor are we supposed to roll in the Burton Taylor’s narrow aisles: the play looks to aim at light, unserious entertainment – divertissement, not depth of feeling.
Unusually for a press preview, the whole piece was performed; at 40 minutes’ length, however, this is not too grand a gesture. And, whilst it’s clear that the play is still very much a work in progress – makeshift props and occasional prompts abounding – a charming production may nonetheless be able to emerge.
One highlight is sure to be the performance of Kate Bennett, as a jealous and scheming duchess: when her attempts at seducing a young knight (Markian Mysko von Schultze) are thwarted by his love for another, she decides to wreak havoc upon the lives of all those involved. Bennett captures her character’s ironic excesses of emotion without descending into farce – something of which the others seem a little scared on occasion. It’s understandable; the play is rendered in rhyming verse, and becomes quite absurd at times, but this must be exploited rather than shied away from.
Chris Evans, the comedic Duke, is currently managing that ever so well; his facial expressions are a serious high point. His quirky gestures and tense, often apoplectic manner also suggest a novel engagement with his character, and it will be intriguing to see where that goes.
As for our young couple, the knight and his love (Grace Mayhew), their relationship is an oddly tragic point in the play. Mayhew does pining quite well, and von Schultze does an excellent horror-struck face, though the dynamics between the two could be exaggerated for great comic effect without loss of sincerity. That seems the thing about this play: the ridiculous exaggeration of emotion betrays some genuinely touching themes, and it’s only when the cast cut themselves loose from self-consciousness that this aspect emerges properly. The fact that it’s doing so already is testament to skilful direction and what looks like a good group dynamic. It is admittedly a play that would have worked well as a garden show, with its light-hearted and gently comic script, but the 6th week performance will nonetheless be something to look forward to.
Chastity on the Verge will run in the Burton Taylor Studio from 28th May to 1st June (Tuesday to Saturday of 6th Week) at 9.30pm. Tickets are available from £5.