The Swan Down Gloves

Stratford programme London programme

All the world's a speedy spud

When the Royal Shakespeare Company let their hair down with it comes their doublet and hose and all.

No classical company slums with such style, or relish and their annual pantomime is a connoisseur's free-for-all.

The Bard himself is battered by a script which leaves no turn unstoned.

There is Stratford's perennial hero Alan Howard, who has worn almost every crown in Shakespeare's calendar, incarcerated in a dragon's armour and condemned to utter not a syllable until the grand finale - which is clearly a Christmas bonus to the critics of the Financial Times who have loathed so much of what Mr. Howard has said in the past.

There is Derek Godfrey, the company's superannuated nobleman, radiant as Sir Walter Raleigh returning from the New World with a severe dose of Manhattan dive talk and reflecting that 'All the world's a spud'.

George, the silent dragon!


There is the delectable Sinead Cusack, this season's memorable Portia, giving alley cats a good name in song and dance routine that should rouse every ginger Tom in town. As for David Suchet, whose Shylock has put him in the first league of our classical actors, he is busy grabbing every moment on stage to audition for Richard III, Macbeth and the rest of Shakespeare's heavy mob, in the role of Mazda, 'The Master of Shadows'.

I could go on and on, about Barbara Leigh Hunt's high-camp fairy queen, who carries glitter and a torch in a tote bag clutched to her farthingale and wears white wellies against the rising tides of puns and misquotations - or Joe Melia's punk sewer rat wearing a costume suspiciously resembling the company's current Richard III, who when consumed by the dragon's fire is given to shouting, 'A hose, a hose, my kingdom for a hose!'

As you see, to get the best from this show it's best to brush up your Shakespeare before booking. But I am sure you're wanting to know about the plot. Well, Billie Brown wrote it and there's a lot of it. Over three hours, which is quite fast work by this company's standards.


Suffice it to say that nothing has been spared in Terry Hand's fast and furious production to prove, once again, that anything anyone else can do in town, the RSC can do better.

If the jokes are in ones, then at least they sent one critic home feeling that Christmas had at last begun.
Daily Mail, 24.12.81.

The plot has something to do with a pair of gloves which Kit and Will (the young Shakespeare) from Snitterfield are seeking to deliver to the court in London. They are accompanied by their gargantuan dame-mother (the splendid Terry Wood) and on the way encounter a villainous Marchioness (Billie Brown looking like Barbara Stanwyck), a couple of hot-cats (Jonathan Hyde and Sinead Cusack, a silent smoke-belching dragon (Alan Howard) and a punkish, snarling, black-leather rodent (Joe Melia snarling at being dubbed Best Supporting Rat). .................
Michael Billington.
The Guardian, 29.12.81.

The classical actors every chance for outrageous burlesque of panto people and conventions, while spouting tags from the Bard, kicking their heels and blasting out rock-and-roll.

My 12 year old companion..........warmed to the rich humour of Terry Wood's elephantine Dame, laughed at the plentiful slapstick and joined loudly in a ditty celebrating Raleigh's potatoes - something about bashing 'em and smashing 'em and going bubble-ubble-ubble with the butter..........

But the best fun for the clever-clogs is to see Barbara Leigh Hunt no longer Gertrude but the 'Good Fairy'. Alan Howard descends on a trapeze to project his huge charm into the Dragon. Sinead Cusack exchanges Portia for a sexy alley-cat...........It is not a show to miss.

George the silent dragon

John Barber.
Daily Telegraph, 24.12.81.

Theatrical pleasures abound. Set-pieces include an operatic parody in which the frozen Thames cracks beneath the all-too substantial burden of Dame Rosie, who is rescued only by the intervention of Lumina, Lady of Light (Barbara Leigh-Hunt...). David Suchet as the Demon King chokes in his own clouds of smoke and concusses himself against the scenery at every exit. George, a speechless dragon (Alan Howard without drag on), wields a lusty tail, learns to dance, and ultimately descends in a heavenly machine, finding his voice in time to resolve the action...........
Stanley Wells.
Times Literary Supplement, 1981/2.

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