Review: Ellen: Hotbed Festival – The Junction, Cambridge

Renowned for her portrayal of Shakespeare’s most famous female roles, Dame Ellen Terry’s own life had more than its own fair share of drama. Married three times and involved in several other relationships, she was a woman who lived life to the full. Now as her stage career has come to the end she embarks on a lecture tour. It’s a prospect that fills her with fear. She readily admits she’s not a scholar and is more used to speaking other people’s words rather than her own. What she is able to do, however, is link her life to the Shakespearian women she has played. Beatrice, Rosalind and her favourite, the impassioned Lady Macbeth.

As she prepares a shadow from her past joins her, whether a figment of her imagination, a spectre or a genuine acquaintance is never clear but taking the role of the Dream’s Robin Goodfellow he provides enough mischief to trick Terry into revealing some of her darkest memories.

Ros Connelly’s script marries Terry’s often unhappy personal life with her success on the stage. It reveals some intriguing details. The incident where Terry goes missing and her father identifies a body found in the river as her, the time when researching Ophelia in an asylum she finds the patients ‘too theatrical’ and the advice from her lawyer that her third, alcoholic , abusive husband could claim all her earnings if she divorced him.

As a rehearsed reading it is difficult to judge the piece in its entirety however, it does show real potential and a well-researched story that manages to convey much detail without seeming to be overly academic. Some work to define the role of ‘Robin’ would pay dividends, though as an extract this reading rightly focuses on Terry herself.

Helen Cartwright’s reading of Ellen Terry works well – a woman wanting to take control of her career yet still desperate to be loved and looked after. As Terry herself explains there was nobody to take her out of the Forest of Arden and back to the real world. Alan Mooney provides ample support in a multitude of roles and there is a real chemistry between the two.

A promising reading and one that bodes well for a full production.

Originally written for The Public Reviews

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