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Every Man Out of His Humour

Every Man Out of His Humour by Ben Jonson. A Sweet Sorrow Theatre Company production, directed by Josh Caldicott at the Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from 27 – 30 September.

Macilente is a grumpy, down-on-his-luck scholar, angry with a world where the most awful and corrupt people are able to succeed and flourish. He encounters a parade of these warped individuals; from a grain-hoarding farmer, a country lad trying to buy power and status, a law student more obsessed with fashion than his studies, to a wife more in love with a vain stranger than her overly-doting husband, and a clown who simply talks far too much. They must navigate this farcical myriad of characters and assist in each of their downfalls!

In its first professional production since the 1600s, Sweet Sorrow Theatre Company presents Every Man Out of His Humour, Ben Jonson’s incredible farce of ridiculous, terrible people getting their comeuppances.

After 400 years, Elementary Whatson just had to ask the Sweet Sorrow Theatre Company why they have chosen this play which has been gathering dust for the last 400 years.

Director Josh Caldicott. Photo courtesy of Sweet Sorrow Theatre Company.

Director, Josh Caldicott told me, “This play really feels like an undiscovered gem. It features a parade of ridiculous characters doing utterly bonkers things, and whatever your humour is (whether you like wit, slapstick, dark humour) there will be something in it for you.

“Also, as a play that features a character parodying Shakespeare and includes a few Shakespeare quotations, it’s really interesting to see this kind of satire (which has risen in popularity with things like Bill and Something Rotten) but to have it written by someone who actually knew Shakespeare personally!”

Research shows that Ben Jonson had earlier written Every Man in His Humour, which was published in 1598. And we wondered why Sweet Sorrow didn’t chose that play to perform as it appears to have been the more successful of the two plays.

“There is some debate about whether Every Man In or Every Man Out was more successful in Jonson’s time,” said Josh, “but certainly Every Man In has become more successful over time; it was even performed at the RSC in 1986. I think this is partially because there is a misconception that, as a conceptual sequel, you have to do Every Man In before you can do Every Man Out, but they are complete independent plays. Every Man Out has a completely new set of characters and plots that are much more ridiculous and funny than its predecessor.”

Having fun at reheasals.Photo courtesy of Sweet Sorrow Theatre Company.

Unlike Shakespeare’s plays we don’t often see work by Ben Jonson being performed – even though research shows that William Shakespeare is known to have acted in Jonson’s productions. We asked Josh whether it was a bit risky to produce this play – will audiences understand it and enjoy it?

“Jonson can be tricky, but we’ve made every effort to make it easy to understand,” said Josh. “We have cut the play substantially, keeping only the best bits which the audience will be able to follow; we’ve spent a long time in the rehearsal room making sure we understand exactly what the characters are saying and thinking, so that we can communicate that to the audience; on top of this, there is a full summary in the programme and there will be a free pre-show talk on the 28 September to explain some of the context of the play.

“We’ve made sure the play is easy to follow such that I think audiences will actually really enjoy something new and genuinely surprising, which you don’t always get with Shakespeare since his plays are so well known.”

Rehearsing for Every Man Out of His Humour.Photo courtesy of Sweet Sorrow Theatre Company.

As Every Man Out of his Humour hasn’t been performed for hundreds of years, I wondered if it had just been forgotten.

“To some extent,” said Josh. “There have been the odd rehearsed play reading, but we believe this will be the play’s first full performance by a professional company since the King’s Men in the 1600s.

“I think the play’s length has put people off, but we’re cutting it to a good length. I think in general, Shakespeare’s plays are so often favoured, that the works of his contemporaries don’t often get their time to shine, and when they do it is usually just their more famous plays, like Volpone and The Alchemist. However, I think it’s really exciting to perform something like this, to discover it and to surprise the audience with its crazy twists and turns.”

Some of the Sweet Sorrow cast in rehearsals.Photo courtesy of Sweet Sorrow Theatre Company.

So, what sort of audience reaction was the Sweet Sorrow Company hoping to get?

“As a director, one of my first priorities is that I want the audience to have a good time, which is why I wanted to direct this play, which I think audiences will find funny, engaging and even surprising.

“This play has been long overdue its time in the limelight, and if audiences leave agreeing with that and then go and try to see more of Jonson’s plays, that would be a great bonus; but if they just leave the theatre feeling like they’ve had a good night, then the play will have been a success to me.”

Elementary asked Josh if the play will be given a modern twist, or will it be set in the 16th century as it was originally?

“We are setting the play in the modern day,” said Josh. “The play was originally a biting satire, commenting on the events of the time, so I think it’s been slightly written off as a period piece, but essentially, it’s about selfish people in power who succeed despite being awful – that resonates with the world today! Hopefully, by setting the play in the world today, not only will it be easier to understand, but it will also highlight these resonances and perhaps be slightly cathartic to see these people get their much-deserved comeuppances.”

Members of Sweet Sorrow Theatre Company. Photo courtesy of Sweet Sorrow Theatre Company.

Josh summed up by adding, “This play is truly a delight and I think there is something in it for everyone to enjoy. As we’ve rehearsed, we’ve been surprising ourselves by just how funny and surprising it really is.

“This play has been waiting about 400 years to be staged, don’t wait another 400 for your chance to see it!”

Discover more about the Sweet Sorrow Company:

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