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Students transport Jacobean city comedy to a dystopian near-future

Posted on 5 June 2013

A 17th century Jacobean comedy seldom seen on the modern stage is undergoing a thoroughly modern re-working with the help of students from the University of York.

The Dutch Courtesan

John Marston’s masterpiece, The Dutch Courtesan, is re-imagined in a chaotic world twenty years from now where tricksters prowl and street executions are an ever-present threat. Weaving together tales of sexual obsession, clever-con tricks and radical freethinking, passionate men can soon find themselves at the foot of the gallows.

Professor Michael Cordner, Head of Theatre at the University’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television (TFTV), is hard at work with the 20-strong cast of students rehearsing the play, which runs at the Department later this month as part of the 2013 Festival of Ideas.

The play tells the story of two friends, the relaxed, pleasure-loving Freevill and the naturally phlegmatic Malheureux, and the turbulent relationship both have with the passionate Dutch courtesan Franceschina.

A new website, set up by Department of Theatre, Film and Television Postdoctoral Fellow Ollie Jones, is tracking progress in rehearsals. It also features original articles on The Dutch Courtesan by leading researchers, plus a film of the Olivier award-winning actor Oliver Ford Davies talking about the difficulties of performing Jacobean verse. Filmed interviews with the cast, set designer and composer are planned as well as blogs, films of the rehearsals and features by student journalists including a focus on objects which are significant in the production.

A team of Department of Theatre, Film and Television production staff and students will film a performance of the play which will be available on the website alongside a film of Professor Cordner’s earlier TFTV production of Thomas Middleton’s comedy, A Mad World, My Masters.

“Effectively, we have already published the equivalent of a book of essays on the play online,” said Professor Cordner. “The website aims to open a conversation between scholars about the play and wider aspects of Jacobean theatre which we hope will continue beyond the actual production. We are using the combined practical and academic talents of Department of Theatre, Film and Television staff and students to produce an educational and research resource which we hope will provoke discussion and debate.”

“There are three distinct plots within the play with resulting shocks and twists and turns. It’s a play that makes it very difficult for the audience to know where they will be led next. The challenge for the cast is to make sure the audience are convinced by the logic of the surprises happening in front of them,” said Professor Cordner. “The cast are having fun with it and we will be encouraging them to contribute blogs to the website as their characters develop through the rehearsal process.”

There are three distinct plots within the play with resulting shocks and twists and turns. It’s a play that makes it very difficult for the audience to know where they will be led next

Professor Michael Cordner

The set and costumes have been designed by Jan Bee Brown, whose current projects also include a season of Ayckbourn plays at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. The Dutch Courtesan features an original score composed by former York student Odinn Hilmarsson, who has written five new songs and an underlying score for the production. The show’s production crew is made up entirely of students, guided by Department of Theatre, Film and Television technical staff.

Leading theatre critic Michael Billington will be setting the stage for the performance on 21 June when he joins Professor Cordner at TFTV for a discussion about Jacobean plays on the contemporary stage. The event begins at 5.45pm.

Schoolchildren and the general public will have a chance to explore the skills needed to play a Jacobean comedy trickster on stage at Department of Theatre, Film and Television workshops led by theatre director Tom Wright on 20 and 22 June.

The production has been made possible with an endowment from the Sylvia and Colin Shepherd Charitable Trust.

The Dutch Courtesan runs from Thursday 20 June to Saturday 22 June at the Department of Theatre, Film and Television on the University of York’s Heslington East campus. The performances begin at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £7 (concessions £5). Booking and information for performances, workshops and talk at www.dutchcourtesan.co.uk/booking.

Notes to editors:

  • For blogs, films and features about the Department of Theatre, Film and Television production of The Dutch Courtesan see www.dutchcourtesan.co.uk/
  • Find out more about the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York at www.york.ac.uk/tftv
  • World class speakers, exhibitions and performances – find out more about what’s on offer at the 2013 York Festival of Ideas at yorkfestivalofideas.com/2013/

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153

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