The reviewer - Leo Capernaros - kindly sent his Sentinel review of 'The Herbal Bed' to the Director who in turn has forwarded it on to myself.
So here is the review in full.....
"The Herbal Bed is based on a true story that took place in Stratford-upon-Avon during the summer of 1613, it focusses on the lives of Dr John Hall and his wife Susanna, who also happened to be the beloved daughter of William Shakespeare. The plot revolves around the public accusation of adultery, an accusation which ignites a powerful drama and shines a harsh light on 17th Century British society.
The central themes of the play are serious; love, morality, monogamy, religion and justice are all confronted as the plot unfolds and whilst this play is exceptionally well written, Stoke Repertory Players deserve huge credit for providing a performance that would put many professional
productions to shame. The highly talented cast of eight immediately launched in to the dialogue at excellent pace, each finding humour and tragedy with confidence and ease throughout.
The set was well considered, full of texture and depth it allowed for free-flowing action and fully supported the absorbing performance of the actors. None more so than Susanna played with skill by Catherine O’Reilly, who on more than one occasion gave us the sense that the daughter of the world’s greatest poet was indeed a chip off the old block. James Freeman played her husband the doctor intelligently, allowing himself an understated first act to give his character room to flourish in the second. Amy Keen-Wicks played the Hall’s six year old daughter Elizabeth beautifully, it was a real treat to see such an engaging performance from such a young actor.
As the play continues it becomes increasingly difficult to work out who exactly is the ‘villain’, but Jack Lane the doctor’s apprentice is the most obvious candidate. Intent on accusing Susanna of adultery, James King played the part with all the wit and swagger it required but kept just enough back to ensure we never lost sight of Lane’s vulnerability. The co-accused came in the form of the local haberdasher Rafe Smith, played well by Philip Milward. Smith himself trapped in a loveless marriage seeks solace in the company of Susanna, but he too has to wrestle with his moral conscience.
Also caught up in the tangled web is servant Hester Fletcher, played wonderfully by Angela Dale who gave this character depth, heart and when required inspired intelligence.
In the second act we are transported to Worcester Cathedral as Jack Lane’s accusation of adultery finds itself being disputed in a religious court. Here we are reintroduced to the Bishop Parry and Vicar Barnabus Goche. The two actors did an excellent job of portraying different sides to the church of the time. Brian Rawlins softly ensured the older Bishop embodied the warm, nurturing aspects, whilst Steven Beattie played the paranoid and judgmental vicar with intensity and power. From start to finish this was a fully engaging piece of theatre and the production is a credit to directors James Freeman and Sarah Stockdale."