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Cashian – The Cumnor Affair

Tête-à-Tête Company / Chroma

Riverside Studios, London W6

16 November 2008


Tim Murray  - Musical Director

Bill Bankes-Jones – Director

Tim Meacock – Designer

Mark Doubleday – Lighting


Elizabeth I – Sibylla Meienberg

Toby – Damian Thantrey

Catherine – Phyllis Cannan

Amy Robsart, Lady Dudley – Amy Carson

Lord Robert Dudley – Andrew Rees

William Cecil – Robert Gildon

Sir Francis Walsingham – Roderick Earle


Lord Robert Dudley was the favourite of Queen Elizabeth I; only his wife Amy stood between him and a marriage to the most powerful woman in Europe. When Amy conveniently and mysteriously plummeted to her death on her home staircase it is small wonder that tongues wagged: accident – suicide – murder?  The conundrum has lived on as a cause célèbre and historian and crime novelist Iain Pears has come up with a neatly convoluted solution, expressed in an admirably clear and singable libretto.


Philip Cashian’s score is economical but very atmospheric, allowing every word to be projected and his short intermezzi really build up the tension between scenes.  The drama unfolds under the ever watchful eye of a live portrait of the silent queen, played by actress Sibylla Meienberg who skilfully negotiates the balance between remaining rigidly still and yet acknowledging the events she witnesses. 


Director Bill Bankes-Jones has to work with a tiny stage, sandwiched between two groupings of the orchestra, but he handles events with a sure touch. Events are viewed from behind a gauze curtain reminding the audience that we are eavesdroppers. The scenes are very neatly linked with the simple but effective device of a little brass candlestick.  It is brought on or lit by one character as the lights go up, and then extinguished or removed as the lights dimmed.


Amy is sung by a real life Amy (Carson) a young and vulnerable looking soprano from the RAM who sounded a little challenged by the tessitura  in the opening scenes, but found her stride thereafter.  Her husband, Robert Dudley, was made up to look rather older (the only discrepancy I could spot with historical accuracy) and Andrew Rees gave a convincing portrait of an ambitious but vacillating man, not afraid to let his mental strain colour his voice on occasion.


At the centre of the intrigue lie the politically influential duo of Cecil (Robert Gildon)and Walsingham (Roderick Earle), spinning an evil spider’s web of deceit - the latter menacingly black toned, coercing with veiled threat.


Phyllis Cannan produced a notably lifelike portrayal of Amy’s trusted servant, ably supported by Damian Thantrey as steward.


Altogether this is as fine a piece of theatre as an intriguing musical experience, and one that deserves to be repeated in a somewhat larger theatre.


Serena Fenwick


see Tete a Tete website http://www.tete-a-tete.org.uk/ for more, including a slide show