The Cardinal

Southwark Playhouse

Opening Night – 28 April 2017


“An exceptional evening with a top quality cast”

The Southwark Playhouse has a reputation for staging lost musicals. Recent productions there have received rave reviews and played to full houses. So would audience reaction be to a show written some 375 years ago be a positive one? An emphatic yes. It is a must see show.

The Cardinal, a blood thirsty tragedy of lust and power was written in 1641 by James Shirley a year before theatres were closed by Oliver Cromwell at the outbreak of the Civil War. Modern productions of Shirley’s plays are rare so seeing it in 2017 is both an historic education and gift.

The story tells of a power hungry Cardinal and the recently widowed Duchess Rosaura.

Despite the King’s promise that the Duchess will be free to choose her next husband, she finds she has to marry the Cardinal’s nephew Columbo, whom she abhors. When Columbo is sent off to lead a military campaign the Duchess asks in a letter for him to release her. Columbo mistakenly thinks she is merely testing him, shows himself generous and does so.

In Columbo’s absence Rosaura claims the hand of the gallant Alvares whom she has secretly desired.

This sets up an intriguing mixture of revenge, bluff and counter bluff, feigned madness, happiness, sadness, a terrific sword fight and the odd death or two.

A strong cast of eleven gave faultless and word perfect performances. The titular role is played expertly by experienced actor Stephen Boxer who brings a ‘John Hurt’ feel to the role. It is a joy to watch Natalie Simpson as Rosaura, her credits for the Royal Shakespeare Company include King Lear and Hamlet. She commands the stage space bringing both laughter and tears in her performance. Jay Saihal brings to life the menacing character Columbo and Timothy Speyer is the funny and likeable Antonio.

There is strong direction from Justin Audibert and Anna Reid’s design is a stark set of grey stone which transports to viewer into what seems to be a cathedral nave and allows to audience to focus solely on the actors. The overall experience is enhanced by clever lighting and sound.

Overall this was an exceptional evening out in Southwark. To be able to experience a top quality cast in a 375 year old play in such intimate surroundings was rare. The production would not seem out of place at a larger venue and perhaps it does deserve a larger audience.


This highly recommended play is at The Southwark Playhouse until May 27th



Photography by – Mitzi de Margary