THE BALLAD OF SALOMON PAVEYCategory: Theatre
(by Ned Chaillet)
Boys’ voices tell the story best. The soprano lilt to songs and the piercing shrieks from, roughhousing and rivalries go a long way to suggest what life for the boy actors of the Elizabethan theatre might have been like. Twenty-four boys from several schools have now joined the company of the Ballad of Salomon Pavey, which began as an improvised exercise at Belmont School, Mill Hill, and went on to win a Fringe first award at last year’s Edinburgh Festival.
The authors, Jeremy James Taylor and David Drew-Smythe, drawing inspiration from Ben Jonson’s epigram on the death of a child actor of the Chapel Royal company, in 1602, have abbreviated history and set their play in 1583, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s fiftieth birthday. Still drawing loosely on history, they use the occasion of a joint royal performance by the boys of the Chapel Royal and the boys of St Paul’s as the dramatic focus of the play, and bring in historical figures.
There are ironies enough in Jonson’s epigram, for Salomon Pavey, aged just 13, was famed for portraying old men. In the performance the ironies multiply, for it is meant to appear as a piece written by a child of the company in which children portray the old men who work Pavey to his death. Dramatically there are many fine, suggestive touches: Pavey coughing like an old man throughout the play and finding himself in rivalry with another boy who has aged to uselessness through a breaking voice.
The programme calls the play a ballad opera and like that entertainment it borrows tunes and grafts new lyrics on to them. Jeremy James Taylor’s lyrics, while not all memorable, are exact in mood and the song and danse tunes chosen are lovely, played with Elizabethan fervour by a professional group, colled in performance the Salomon Pavey Consort.
The boys sing and act with self-possession and confidence that is exceptional, whethe they wear dresses in the women’s parts or pretend to by men. Although there are slow stretches, it is a quite extraordinary entertainment with sweet voices, charm, humour and yet a consciousness of the horrors of child exploitation which is intelligently conveyed.
(The Times, 1977)