Edward’s Boys’ revivals of plays by the likes of Lyly, Middleton and Marston have informed and transformed my thinking about early modern drama and children’s company plays in particular. No modern revivals can give us concrete answers to our questions about the plays or their performance style, but over the last few years Perry MIlls’ lucid and imaginative productions have asked the very best kinds of questions.
Wacky, subversive and often very rude (and that’s just the director), the boy players at K.E.S. always come up with insightful and thrilling solutions to often difficult and challenging texts. For the cast the rehearsals are intellectually stimulating and huge fun, for the audience the productions are even more so! And no parent should be deprived of at least one opportunity to see their son being serious in a nice frock… Long may they continue!
Edward’s Boys show us what boys’ companies can do — which is to say, anything. Their productions are not excellent ‘for children’ or ‘for amateurs’ – they are excellent by any standards. They draw energy from two vital sources: first, painstaking attention to the text, which enables each actor to understand his lines and communicate clearly with the audience; second, the ensemble ethos of the boys and their director, Perry Mills. Mills has created a culture in which the boys teach and learn from each other, releasing the exuberant will to perform in each one to great creative effect. Edward’s Boys audiences learn something about boys’ companies and early modern drama, but they also relish pure theatrical gold.
The boys handled Lyly’s language with ease and panache. This is the first time I have seen Lyly performed by actors who are not distracted by their characters’ tendency for wordplay… Edward’s Boys delighted in the language their characters delighted in, allowing the wordplay to lead them as they spoke.
They are our modern day “Little Eyases” as the companies of boy performers were referred to in Hamlet. But in fact the exercise is much more than that, and should I think be seen, as it deserves to be, in the wider context of Shakespeare study and performance worldwide…for me as a Shakespeare director, with particular interest in the repertoire of these contemporaries, these productions have proved invaluable… Forgive me for going on at length, but I think the school is producing something rather miraculous, and I suspect it is too easy for that to go unsaid. So I am saying it.
Your work is the most sustained attempt to re-imagine what we think boy companies could do – and it will really rewrite the academic theatre history books.
More than any other theatre company, including the best of the professionals, Edward’s Boys are in the vanguard of exploring the theatrical style of Thomas Middleton and other contemporaries of Shakespeare… They are clearly leading the way in the exploration of early modern plays using an all-boys cast. Those of us privileged to see these productions are learning about a key aspect of the production of plays in Shakespeare’s period. We are also seeing excellent productions of plays that are insufficiently performed, and, above all, enjoying some memorable evenings in the theatre.
Edward’s Boys are a firm fixture on the map of the English theatrical scene—and they have also changed the map of how we think about early modern theatre (not just boys’ company plays). The boys – of all ages – are simultaneously innocent and knowing in performance, keeping city comedy teetering on the brink of send-up and making revenge tragedy able to confront its own excess.
Edward’s Boys are a revelation. Anyone who is interested in early modern plays in performance ought to see them. In terms of physicality, proxemics and embodiment, they open up new theatrical horizons for even the most experienced twenty first century theatre goer; they challenge complacency about theatrical norms; they are also extremely entertaining.
Anyone interested in early modern theatre should see an Edward’s Boys’ production. Their exploration of the repertory written for the Boys’ Companies may not be for the faint-hearted. The closed-minded will side with the anti-theatrical pamphleteers and declare that disguise is indeed a wickedness. The open-hearted will relish their performances as a revelation.