This week saw the Southsea Shakespeare Actors expand their repertoire even further with T.S.Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, with a production that felt every bit authentic despite some sound and lighting setbacks. The story tells us of the quarrel between Thomas Beckett and King Henry II. Following Beckett's 7 year absence as a result of the argument, in which time the town of Canterbury are losing hope in God, he returns to the town, encouraged by others to make peace with the King, and is ultimately killed, as a result of deciding otherwise.
Setting it in Portsmouth Cathedral itself was a smart move by director Lauren Farnhill, and placed the minds of the audience right along with the cast, back in the early 12th century. One particular problem when working in such a space is, of course, sound levels, and many lines, particularly near the beginning were lost as a result. Some performers seemed unaffected however, and delivered their performances with particularly good diction and clarity, most notably Vincent Adams, Danny Carter, Neil Gregory-Reader and Rob Bartlett as the First, Second, Third and Fourth Knights. Both Carter and Adams particularly gave a welcome injection of humour in what normally would be a wholly serious piece.
Farnhill's use of a very strong female ensemble as the women of Canterbury were the particular highlight. Although small roles, each performer gave an individual delivery which stood out on its own merit. Sarah Mayell-Thomas, who also doubled as Second Tempter gave two strong and diverse performances, while Katie Farnhill, Vicky Martin and Gail Oakley were stand outs, each giving passionate well delivered stories to the audience. Nick Downes as Fourth Tempter, again gave a strong delivery showing a particularly good understanding of the text.
Patric Howe as Thomas Beckett, who is more well known for his bold and domineering performances, instead gave a delicacy and sensitive touch. This, contrasted with the brutality of the act committed against him, gave dynamics and a wonderful sense of light and shade.