On 27 September 2022
Love’s Victory was successfully staged and filmed at
Penshurst Place, the family home of the author.
The production was designed to recreate a mixture of masque and household theatre. The actors sat at the high table on the dais or raised platform at the end of Baron’s Hall throughout the performance, occupying the positions of prominent members of the Sidney-Herbert household, and stood up to perform as characters in Wroth’s drama.
Who was Mary Wroth, and how was she able to write a play in an age when women were excluded from the professional theatres like Shakespeare’s? You can see a short video about Wroth, her family and an introduction to the production, by Alison Findlay and Philip Sidney.
For more opportunities to compare the female-authored drama with Shakespeare texts on the school curriculum see our Quill Power project.
Paperback copies of Love’s Victory ed. Alison Findlay, Philip Sidney and Michael Brennan, are now available from Revels Plays (Manchester University Press, 2022)
Here is a copy of the Love’s Victory Programme with full details of the professional cast, the creative team and information about the venue and the author. In addition here is a Who’s Who in Love’s Victory for help with the plot and identifying the characters.
The live performance was professionally filmed in order to give members of the public free access to judge and enjoy Love’s Victory in performance. Click here to access the film of the production
Reviews of the Film: ‘This film of Love’s Victory is a coup de theatre. Restoring the play to the place where it was originally performed, and to something like the way it was performed, this performance showcases the vitality of early modern household drama, for which we have so few examples.’ (Mary Ellen Lamb, Southern Illinois University) Read more and add your own review
Please scroll down to read more about the live production, the music and the costumes.
The Coterie Production 27 September at Penshurst Place
While the performers occupied seats at the great table and the place of members of the Sidney-Herbert family, members of the wider audience sat at banqueting tables around Baron’s Hall consuming early modern banquet sweetmeats at Penshurst Place. This culminated with marchpanes on each table, the family’s high table marchpane featuring the cipher on the title page of the Penshurst Manuscript of Love’s Victory, which entwines the initials of Wroth’s fictional characters and those of the Sidney and Herbert families.
Costumes A team of costumiers from across the north of England created masque style costumes inspired by designs by Inigo Jones for the gods Venus and Cupid and early seventeenth-century bodices, doublets, breeches, petticoats, chemises, shirts for the pastoral characters. Colour was used to allude to the Sidney and Herbert family members for whom the play was composed. Blue and gold are the Sidney family colours (worn by brother and sister characters Philisses and Simeana) while mulberry and silver (worn by Lissius) are the colours of Amphilanthus, the fictional avatar of Wroth’s cousin William Herbert.
Music was co-directed by Robin Jeffrey and Tamsin Lewis (Passamezzo). There are no extant scores for the numerous songs in Love’s Victory so Robin and Tamsin used a selection of tunes that Mary Wroth and her musical family would have known from their own playing, dancing and singing. There are tunes by Thomas Campion, Martin Peerson, Philip Rosseter, John Dowland, Guillaume Tessier and Robert Jones (who dedicated books of airs to Wroth and her father Robert Sidney). For the final song, which is missing from the Penshurst Manuscript, Alison chose ‘Who can blame me if i love? the final song in Book I of Wroth’s Urania I (1621) which Robin and Tamsin set to ‘Durrants Masque,’ an anonymous tune whose title refers to the impressive family seat of the Wroths, where Mary and her husband Robert entertained.
Comments on the Live performance
Don E. Wayne (University of California San Diego)
Message: I thought the performance of Love’s Victory was splendid. While the mythic and allegorical elements of the play require some prior knowledge on the audience’s part, there is a human dimension to both the play as written by Mary Wroth and as interpreted by Editor of the text, Producer and Dramaturg for the Penshurst performance, Alison Findlay, and by Director Emma Rucastle, and by the excellent actors and musicians, a human element that as performed was intellectually and emotionally powerful and exhilarating. I appreciated the subtle and semi-Brechtian approach to the production, which the director and actors discussed the next day with the conferees.
The production was admirable in how it engaged with the actual location of a storied Great Hall where in the 17th century Mary Wroth herself would have witnessed such entertainments, and how the actors engaged with the audience of 21st-century scholars and others who were fortunate to be present at this wonderful performance.
Alison Sorbie (Queens University, Montreal) ‘This was a marvellous production by an extremely talented troupe of actors, who seemed to enjoy performing together as an ensemble. I would single out particularly the characters of Musella and Simeana especially as excelling in the musicality their voices and expression, but also Silvesta, Phillises and Lissius for their convincing interpretations of character. It was really a pleasure to experience the performance in the Baron’s Hall at Penshurst, the most appropriate place. The period music was the ideal accompaniment and was woven into the drama with such sympathy that it perfectly complimented the evening as a whole.’ Alison Sorbie (Queens University, Montreal)
Karen Nelson (University of Maryland) ‘I thought the performance worked brilliantly. It was better than a dream come true to see it performed at Penshurst.
The concept, to set it as a coterie performance and have the actors at a table across a raised platform, worked very well… the ensemble was amazing, and every individual brought an enlightening perspective on the play.
Venus (Francesca Swarbrick) and Cupid/Arcas (Miles Kinsley) did a compelling job of serving as catalysts for the action; their interludes operated very effectively, and the double-casting of Cupid and Arcas, along with Kunle Adenrian as Lacon/Priest and Isabella Williams as Fillis/Priest was an inspired interpretative move.
All of the lovers made their characters engaging and much more readily distinguishable than they are on the page. Imogen Greenwood as Simeana, Sammi Searle as Dalina, and Maggie Wignall as Musella, along with Isabella Williams as Fillis and Jessica Porter as Silvesta, provided excellent individuation of the characters in ways I couldn’t have imagined was possible.
I appreciated, too, their comments in the discussion the next day about how this play, and these characters, performed women’s friendship and a mutuality and support that one doesn’t see in much drama of the period; they broadcast that camaraderie came throughout the production. Cal Chapman as Philisses,
Matthew Christmas as Lissius, and Adam Perrott as Rustic, too, made those characters more distinctive and more compelling than they are when one reads the play. I was especially grateful for the ways that the production underlined the familial relationships, friendships, and enmities at work between members of the cast.
The singing and musical interpretation were top notch and contributed enormously to the performance overall. The musical team and the whole cast–really made this production a stand-out. Emma Rucastle’s direction was brilliant- –even the games worked fairly well… Rucastle’s ability to envision this production is truly noteworthy. (Karen Nelson, University of Maryland)
Martina Kastnerová (University of West Bohemia): Imaginatively, ingeniously staged with a great synthesis of words and music, therefore impressive and moving for a spectator as an academician as well as a person.
Excellently acted by all of protagonists, even in “minor” roles, everyone searching for their “love´s victory”.
Gerit Quealy (Journalist and Independent Scholar) Message: Beyond the amazing historical setting & getting a glimpse of what it might have been like to have been an audience for Wroth’s work at the time, it was a thrill to be able to experience the piece itself. I can’t imagine how long the rehearsal process took for all the comings & goings & getting the nuance in there to give it more texture. The voices were so perfectly in harmony & calibrated to the music, and the performances so alive & vivid that it gave a contemporary feel to the some of the antiquated elements of the material. Have we just always been fretting about love, love, love?
Love’s Victory Rehearsals leading up to the performance
The first three days of rehearsal of Love’s Victory, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Lancaster University, with director Emma Rucastle, are pictured below.
An open dress rehearsal was held in Lancaster Suite at Lancaster Castle on 24 September 2022
and the company moved down to Penshurst Place on 26 October 2022 to rehearse in Baron’s Hall with film director Martyn Hollingworth
with fabulous creative work from the company e.g. make a ‘happiness machine with moving parts’ or snapshots of key plot moments in Love’s Victory:
and some initial work on the tragicomedy of the text in Act 5
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