The Lady of Pleasure
by James Shirley
directed by Gordon Anderson
Cambridge Festival Theatre, 1995
For the committee of the Marlowe Society the project for 1995 began in June 1994 when we advertised in The Stage for a Director. From the 73 applications that we received we invited six to come for an interview in Cambridge and asked that they bring with them a proposal for the play that they would like to direct. We emphasised that The Arts Theatre, where we usually stage our annual production, was closed for refurbishment and that the Director would play a large part in choosing a different and temporary venue.
From the interviewees we picked Gordon Anderson of 606 Theatre who proposed a double-bill of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and The Lady of Pleasure by James Shirley - a play that had not been performed for over 350 years. The latter particularly appealed to the committee because of The Marlowe’s tradition of restoring neglected plays to the stage and Gordon impressed us all as an experienced and innovative Director. At this time we realised that it was essential to appoint a Producer to get to work on fund-raising and venue-finding over the summer. As it was the end of term and too late to advertise, I suggested that if no-one else wanted to, I would take on the role. And so I set to work.
I met with Gordon several times through the summer. We agreed that Tom Hadley, who is part of 606 Theatre, should be the Designer on the project; and around the same time Ian Masterson and Clive Allnutt joined me on the Production Team. We visited Cambridge twice to look at potential venues. The first visit was a little disappointing and we settled on The Pythagoras building at St Johns as a provisional venue, determined to find somewhere more suitable. On our second trip we were invited to look at the Cambridge Festival Theatre belonging to The Arts Theatre Trust and fell in love with it immediately. The beautiful Georgian playhouse, closed since World War II, was perfect for the Gordon and Tom’s interpretation of The Lady of Pleasure.
I met with Rachel Parslew at the Arts Theatre Trust to talk about the possibility of using the theatre for our project and after many phone-calls and letters it was agreed that if we could find the money to execute the basic renovation work necessary to get a licence for the theatre and to produce the show ourselves, then they would be happy to support our venture.
Michaelmas term was hectic with preparations for the production. The fund-raising campaign was in full swing and bringing in small amounts of money. We were very lucky at this time to be put in touch - through Stephen Walton at the Arts Theatre - with the Investment Managers, Kleinwort Benson who agreed to sponsor us for each of the next three years. We were also receiving generous contributions from the University colleges and a few other funding bodies.
By October a technical team had been assembled and they spent a lot of time surveying the
theatre. It was decided that we would allocate a two-week period before the beginning of
term in which to accomplish as much work on the theatre as possible. Later in the month we
made a trip to London to look at possible venues to transfer the production to but it became
more and more apparent that the project at the Festival would demand so much of our time
and attention that transferring the play as well as renovating a theatre would be over
We commissioned fashion designers Press & Bastyan and John Tate to design and make the costumes for the production and contracted Shane Wafter as our Publicist. Auditions took place at the end of November. We ended up with a very talented cast who were entirely dedicated to the production.
Over the Christmas vacation plans were made for Camp Fezzy, our two weeks of renovation
work (costing tens of thousands of pounds!), and on January 4th the first people arrived back in Cambridge to get down to work.
The building at this time was dark and cold. We began by creating a kitchen/common room where we would thereafter eat our meals and hold meetings. At any one time there were between 10 and 20 people working on the theatre; whilst one team of people began giving the building a little light and heat, another team began to clear the junk under the stage or clear the fire passages of weeds. The Fire Officer had laid down a great many requirements that we had to fulfil before they would give us a licence and we spent a lot of time meeting the necessary standards and making the building functional. Tom’s design excited us all and we reached a stage where we could begin the painting of the cyclorama and the building of the bar in the foyer. The experience was rewarding for everyone involved but by the beginning of term there was still so much work to do that we agreed to come back every weekend and on some week days to carry on the work.
The Lent term was a very busy time: the cast, Stage Manager and Assistant Director were spending many hours everyday in rehearsals with Gordon; the technical team were working on the theatre; and Louise Collins and myself spent a lot of time trying to raise more money and encourage companies to sponsor us in-kind. Louise proved to be an expert at getting people to give us things for free. Through letters and phone conversations we ended up with donations for all aspects of the production including paint, shoes, a pump for the large bath that was part of the set and 10 cases of wine. The latter we gave away free to each person buying a souvenir programme. The Fire Officers were unable to give us an alcohol license and this proved to be a very successful way of getting around the problem: lots of people bought programmes just so that they could have a drink. We were lucky also that James Bradell of 9Lazy9 allowed us to use his music for the show and even composed a new track for it.
The week leading up to the production was extremely hectic. Trips were made to London
and minor disasters occurred daily such that we encountered a great many problems in
getting the show ready for the first night. But it went up and was a great success, selling out
almost every night and creating some interesting controversy - as the reviews and letters
later on in the report testify. Half way through the run we had held a forum for discussion
about the play. The panel consisted of Tom, Gordon and Rachel who had been working on
the project; and Peter Holland, Anne Barton and Martin Butler, academics with a particular
interest in Caroline drama; with Tim Cribb chairing. Members of the audiences, cast and
production team returned to air views and suggest improvements. It made for a very
This year’s project was perhaps the most ambitious that The Marlowe Society has ever
attempted. To re-open a theatre that has been closed for 60 years was a vast undertaking
and the challenges we faced seemed to grow by the day. The various problems that we encountered were the natural consequences of a new and
extremely ambitious project.
The production sold extremely well: 3,758 people attended over 13 public performances. The audience included many people who remembered the Festival Theatre when last open as well as Arts Theatre attenders.