A Duchess loves a Knight who is having an affair with the Duke’s niece, the Chatelaine. The Knight spurns the Duchess, who accuses him of adultery to the Duke. The Knight tells the Duke about his real affair, but the Duchess finds out and mentions it to the Chatelaine. The Chatelaine is heartbroken and decides the Knight must be in love with the Duchess. Everyone dies.
This is the plot of Chastity on the Verge, an English adaptation of the 13th c. romance La Chatelaine de Vergi, and it makes a funny and agreeable play: it tells a good story; it doesn’t take itself too seriously; and it provides a pleasurable 40 minutes for its audience.
The space at the Burton Taylor is generally well exploited: the set consists mostly of a double bed centre-stage, a neat reminder of the love affairs and betrayals around which the plot centres. There has clearly been some careful direction at work, and transitions are slick and well-designed (one directorial highlight is backstage singing to approximate sex; the Duke screws up his face in horror as his niece hits her high note and holds it).
Period costumes and farcical acting betray the aim of this production. This is all about telling a story, providing an entertaining narrative, not serious contemplation of the soul: and the outcome is really very refreshing.
Kate Bennett as the wily Duchess is a real highlight. She acts with timing and wit, and touches just the right note, seizing every opportunity for comic exploitation without becoming too farcical. Christopher Evans, our Duke, has quite a wonderful air of distaste and a great range of facial expressions at his disposal. Sadly not all of the acting matches these two: Rachel Dickinson, our jovial narrator, is a little over-acted, and her delivery renders the rhyming couplets a bit stilted. The Chatelaine (Grace Mayhew) doesn’t quite convince with her weepy tone, and her monologue declaring her intention to commit suicide is almost boring. Markian Mysko von Schultze does well as the Knight, though, switching between funny and tragic with admirable speed.
The ridiculous potential of the script is nicely hammed up, and the end tragedy is pretty compelling. It’s not brilliant drama, but it certainly is diverting. If you’ve got 40 minutes free one evening this week and you want some light entertainment, go and see Chastity on the Verge. It’ll amuse you.
PHOTO / Ianthe Greenwood