A Yorkshire Tragedy is one of a series of short plays that were falsely attributed to Shakespeare when first published. The real writer isn't known for sure, but Thomas Middleton is considered to be the most likely author. Performed by a young cast of nine actors, it's based on a true story of a man who murdered his wife and children. In the play, The Husband is a lord of the manor who's frittered away his money on drink and gambling, and is constantly demanding (sometimes violently) that The Wife cash in her dowry so he can continue his lifestyle. When he eventually realises he's doomed his children to becoming beggars, he decides to avoid that fate for them by killing them. Actually from pretty early on it's obvious that any claim this was written by Shakespeare is pretty dodgy, as The Husband is pretty one-dimensionally evil from the start. But all things told it's interesting to see something that varies from normal Jacobean tragedy in both its short length (about an hour in this production) and its domestic setting.
I must admit I was a bit distracted from the off, when I realised where I'd seen Lachlan Nieboer, who plays The Husband, before - he was Captain Jack's brother in Torchwood, so obviously I had to adjust to the shock that he'd got acting work again after the universal panning he got for that. At least he's better here, if not great. Charlotte Powell as The Wife is good though, as is most of the cast. Amy Cook's designs make a little go a long way and while Andy Brunskill's production is well-conceived enough, for the first 15 minutes or so he has his actors underplay things far too much - the lines feel thrown away and it's hard to care about what's happening. Luckily the energy picks up eventually. One thing I did like was the fight scenes (by Lawrence Carmichael) which were energetic and held up well for such an intimate venue. Then again at the tube station going home I overheard a couple of girls who'd found the fight scenes laughable so your mileage may vary. So not entirely a success but not a disaster either.
Oh, and: As there was only a cast list, not a programme with full notes, I liked that the actor who did the "please switch your mobiles off" message at the start stayed on to give some background to the play, since that's of interest when obscure stuff is staged. But following that by explaining how the actors' doubling of many roles works, how the grown man playing a child is actually a grown man, and how the signs on the stage tell us where each scene is taking place? Some people¹ might find this a tad patronising, especially since people who go to pub theatres are presumably familiar with plays staged on a minimal budget.
A Yorkshire Tragedy is booking until the 24th of January at the White Bear.
¹some people who are me