Based around real events that happened in Stratford-Upon -Avon in the summer of 1613, The Herbal Bed focuses on the story of Susanna Hall who was publicly accused of adultery with her neighbour. The remarkable thing about this story is that Susanna was Shakespeare's daughter and her public trial was documented in the archives of the ecclesiastical court at Worcester Cathedral. In the 400th year of Shakespeare's death English Touring Theatre, Royal & Derngate and Rose Theatre Kingston have together produced this piece of work written by Peter Whelan in 1996.
As in any good thrillers, the build up in tension is gradual and this does affect the pace of the play. Jonathan Guy Lewis plays Dr Hall, a gentle, mild mannered fellow who is devoted to serving the sick of the parish with his young charge Jack played by Matt Whitchurch. Young Jack has different ideas about the way that Dr Hall is teaching him and sadly, this is where things start to unravel. Whitchurch's performance builds throughout the play as we see Jack fall from grace and his shifts in mood is played superbly.
A strong ensemble with Emma Lowndes as Susanna Hall, a passionate woman who will do anything to keep her family together, and Lowndes is feisty in her performance. Hester the maid is played brilliantly by Charlotte Wakefield, a character played with charm and warmth.
Jonathon Fensom's set dominates the Playhouse stage as the audience's eyes fall upon a mysterious box like shape that gives nothing away but reveals all once it is opened up. His design of the courtroom in the second half is beautiful and the whole set works perfectly alongside the costumes, and subtle lighting and music.
With the incredible set, and excellent cast The Herbal Bed is a very atmospheric drama and a fine revival of one history's forgotten characters.
Cast: Philip Correia, Patrick Driver, Jonathon Guy Lewis, Emma Lowndes, Michael Mears, Charlotte Wakefield, Matt Whitchurch, Heidi Morgan.