Review of “Nine Daies Wonder”
Snape Maltings Concert Hall. 21 April 2014
It isn’t often you go to a world famous concert hall and are met in the car park by musicians and black-faced Morris dancers with bells on their legs and sticks in their hands!
That was the “warm-up act” at Snape Maltings Concert Hall when Aldeburgh Music put on the premier of Nine Daies Wonder, the story of Will Kemp’s epic dance from London to Norwich in the 16th century. After falling out with Will Shakespeare, internationally famous performer, Will Kemp undertook what was a mammoth publicity stunt to promote his skill as a clown, actor, dancer and all-round entertainer. In nine days he danced his way from town to town… and then , to confound claims that he had cheated, published a pamphlet that gave full details of the journey and the people he met along the way.
In a production developed in workshops at Snape, the wonderfully named Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, dramatised Will Kemp’s journey, singing the songs of the era and playing the music on instruments such as the hurdy-gurdy, viola bastarda, tabla and the bowed keyed fiddle. The four musicians also put aside their instruments to be narrators, actors and Morris dancers as required. The starring role was played by the amazing Steven Player , who recreated the clown-like capers and unstoppable dancing of Will Kemp, with great comic timing. Additional roles were acted by Simon Paisley-Day, playing many diverse characters including Shakespeare and a buxom bar maid.
This play was a bit raunchy and a cross between a Shakespeare comedy (the audience happily played spot-the-quote or reference), Pilgrims Progress, with elements of mummers and pantomime thrown in.
This was probably the battiest production ever produced at Snape but also one of the most fun. The locals in the audience enjoyed the references to Will’s overnight stops in Sudbury, Melford, Clare and Bury St Edmunds and many, tempted by promised discount by Aldeburgh Music, had come in Morris dancing costumes.
I wasn’t so keen on the final section, an encore, when the cast performed a sequence that was supposed to be Will Kemp‘s ancestor in a car, retracing his journey, told in the style of an Elizabethan poem…. Love in a Layby left many of the audience puzzled and detracted from the success of the previous couple of hours. Although commissioned as part of the residency at Snape, it would have been better to end Will’s story in Tudor times.
PS. Many other productions would be enhanced by the idea of a selection of the audience, rehearsed and ready to play the cheering rabble, as was the case for Nine Daise Wonder. What a great atmosphere they created!