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The Fair Maid Of The West - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

Reviewed by Mark Johnson
Disclaimer: tickets were gifted in return for an honest review

For a festive treat The Royal Shakespeare Company are welcoming punters into The Open Arms pub for a reimagined version of The Fair Maid Of The West. 

Aruhan Galieva (Roughman), Amber James (Liz), Emmy Stokelake (Clem) with Matthew Woodyatt (Bardolf) and Tom Babbage (Windbag). Photo by Ali Wright

Thomas Heywood’s text is given a revitalisation by Isobel McArthur who uses her clever mind for this version that she herself states in the programme “I have made some major, arguably wild departures from the original in service to those buying tickets”. What McArthur serves up is madcap and a brilliantly funny piece of theatre. 

The entertainment starts in the Swan Bar prior to the show with 3 musicians playing a mixed of pop classics and festive songs. Once you enter The Swan you feel in the familiar scene of a pub, the illusion is helped further with the side stall seats replaced by pub benches and stools.

At the centre of this adventurous tale is barmaid Liz, played by Amber James. Liz is the calming heart around the chaos that unfolds. She listens and welcomes in people and makes them feel at ease. James is such a great actress and leads this production perfectly. 

The only exception is the rich Spencer (Philip Labey) who upon a failed proposal remains enamoured with Liz even offering her safe surroundings in a Cornish pub he owns after she is forced to flee Plymouth. The initial ridiculousness of the advances do play into something much sweeter once Spencer heads off to Spain but ends up captured as a potential spy. 

Around Liz is a madcap group of people all with tremendous characterisations both in writing and performance. Emmy Stonelake’s Clem is a constant treat to watch with a punchy energy. Matthew Woodyatt’s Bardolf, Aruhan Galieva’s Roughman and Tom Babbage’s postman Windbag who are all are endlessly entertaining throughout.

Philip Labey (background), Aruhan Galieva, Tom Babbage, Marc Giro. Photo by Ali Wright.

Some scenes and characters are outrageously silly especially as Liz is auditioning a variety of acts for the pub entertainment. Whilst feeling a little out of place with the general comedic tone of the performance you can’t deny how hilarious these are to watch. 

David Rankine stands out in a trio of roles, from a Glaswegian drunkard who words are completly unintelligible, to a singer donned in various flags to The King of Spain. He does the outlandish superbly well.

Music helps pace the production with songs littered throughout the production ranging from ‘Y Viva EspaƱa’ to ‘Beyond The Sea’. The music is played by the cast who combine musicality with the performances well. As with McArthur’s smash hit Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) characters will randomly appear with a microphone and start singing. 

Whilst the riotous humour runs throughout the show there are themes of community, class, money and love that are the beating heart. There’s a lovely connection between James’ Liz and Richard Katz’s pub regular which turns out to be a deeper than you initially expect.

The whole show feels like a fizzing cocktail where all the elements match to leave a fantastic taste in the mouth and mind. It’s one of the funniest shows of the year. Pull up a bar stool for a show that is sublime, silly and stupendously good fun. 


The Fair Maid Of The West runs at the Swan Theatre (Stratford-Upon-Avon) until Saturday 14th January. Tickets are available from

The cast of The Fair Maid Of The West. Photo by Ali Wright.

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