Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3
BBC Radio 3, 24 June 2012
Inspired by past events in Elizabethan history and Wimbledon tennis, Martyn Wade's comedy used the game of real tennis as a means for the various courtiers and lovers in Queen Elizabeth's (Celia Imrie's) court to fight one another, and thereby prove their suitability to serve - or even woo - her. Through this parallel the play suggested that life at court and life on the tennis circuit were much the same, with the participants involved in a dog-eat-dog struggle for recognition.
An interesting idea no doubt; and one which inspired a star-studded cast to offer some memorable performances. As Queen Elizabeth, Imrie seemed particularly amused by the intrigues taking place in front of her; everyone seemed so obsessed to secure her favour that they were prepared to undergo any indignity. As the Earls of Leicester and Oxford respectively, David Troughton and Nicholas Boulton vied with each other for the queen's favour, while trying to use the game of tennis to further their causes. Alex Jennings played Simier, another royal suitor, with an excruciating franglais accent.
And yet, as I listened, I could not help thinking that Cherry Cookson's production contained strong echoes of Blackadders II and III. Imrie's performance recalled that of Miranda Richardson's in the television series, while Jennings reminded me of Tim McInnerny's FrouFrou (aka the Scarlet Pimpernel) in Blackadder III. In his meek acceptance of his senior relatives' wishes, Thom Tuck's Philip Sidney strongly recalled Baldrick, even though there was no mention made of any turnips.
While such strategies emphasized the comic aspects of Wade's play, I couldn't help but feel that I was experiencing a sense of deja ecoute (rather than deja vu).