Double Falsehood, Union Theatre, London
Becky Shaw, Almeida Theatre, London
Little Platoons, Bush Theatre, London

A few passages in this 'new Shakespeare' sound suspiciously 18th-century, but more often its flow is credibly Jacobean

This is pretty sensational news on the theatre scene: a long-lost play by the Bard, startlingly added to Methuen's canonical Arden Shakespeare series and now receiving its first professional staging in more than two centuries. 'Ods bodkins!

What's really fascinating about Double Falsehood, however, is its hotly disputed, complex provenance. As the Arden edition itself acknowledges, the authorship question remains vexed regarding this tragical-comical-pastoral romance wherein two young lovers are unhappily separated; a rape victim seeks recompense, disguised as a shepherd-boy; and a two-faced knave called Henrique is eventually exposed.

It was first presented as a great rediscovery at Drury Lane in 1727, having apparently been unearthed by Lewis Theobald, an ambitious writer and Shakespeare editor. However, it was then dissed as a forgery, a drama not only depicting a duplicitous rotter, but also concocted by one.

Theobald was trounced in Pope's satirical Dunciad. Today, however, a growing number of scholars believe he genuinely acquired – and only tinkered with – a script of a drama co-written circa 1613 by the semi-retired Shakespeare with John Fletcher (originally entitled Cardenio).

For theatregoers off to see Phil Willmott's production at Southwark's pioneering Union Theatre – a scruffy burrow under a railway bridge – the fun lies in trying to determine which bits, if any, were penned by the master. It's Spot-the-Bard.

There are, for sure, a few passages that sound suspiciously 18th-century, stiff and moralising. But more often the poetic imagery and pentameters flow by, credibly Jacobean. They're spoken with winning verve by Gabriel Vick's ardent, faithful Julio and his sweetheart, Emily Plumtree's Leonora who, when parentally pressurised to marry his treacherous friend, is ready to commit suicide on the wedding day.

Though not scintillating, Adam Redmore's Henrique has one fascinating flash of guilt, sloughed like a snake cast as he moves on from assaulting the maid, Violante. Meanwhile, Julio's father (Stephen Boswell) is a delight: frail yet explosively fuming at snobs.

Played out in modern dress on a near-bare stage, Willmott's production begins lucidly (and making Leonora's parent a matriarch, rather than a patriarch, works OK). But then monks' cowls are introduced, confusingly doubling as shepherds' smocks. As for the script, if Shakespeare was contributing, he wasn't firing on all cylinders. What might be trademark Shakespearean narrative ingredients and figures of speech seem increasingly like generic regurgitations, with a jolting plot (surely missing scenes?) and echoes of everything from Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It and Measure for Measure to Hamlet and Lear when Julio goes mad.

Still, Double Falsehood is an intriguing curio, and I greatly look forward to seeing it reworked in Gregory Doran's imminent RSC staging (entitled Cardenio).

In Becky Shaw, the Almeida's new domestic drama by the US writer Gina Gionfriddo (of TV's Law & Order), Suzanna and her adopted brother Max are trying to shake off their semi-incestuous hankering for each other. This may sound scarily screwed-up, yet Gionfriddo surprisingly attaches it to a dry, witty, upmarket sitcom.

Peter DuBois' production, importing David Wilson Barnes from off-Broadway, is highly entertaining and extremely slick, with hotel rooms, apartments and cafés on a revolving stage.

Max is a wealthy financier with no time for social niceties or self-pitying psycho-babble. And every line that Barnes delivers is scorchingly funny as he gives Suzanna's soppy liberal husband, Andrew, short shrift and then gets cornered by a madly grinning blind date. Daisy Haggard is hilarious as Becky, bug-eyed but not as dumb as she seems. Anna Madeley's and Barnes's suppressed desires are startling too.

Nonetheless, Vincent Montuel is a mild bore as Andrew, and Haydn Gwynne slightly cheesy, having to play the rich, sourpuss mother then serve as a mouthpiece for wise saws. In the end, the writing feels terrifically smart but slightly smug: a bit like Frasier with a nod to the darker terrain of Sam Shepard.

Lastly, in the Bush Theatre's Schools Season, Little Platoons by Steve Waters is more of a letdown, oddly scrappy and half-baked. It sounds terrifically topical, being based patently on the "free school" currently being set up by Toby Young and his west-London buddies. And Waters promises to show how selfish motivations can undermine Big Society initiatives.

Nathan Curry's production sits on the fence, though. It wavers towards but then steers away from a trenchant, barbed tone. Only Joanne Froggatt is distinctly satirical as the perky government bureaucrat, Polly. Andrew Woodall does his best to give Nick, the swanky maverick spearheading the new school, both engaging charisma and a bullish edge.

Meanwhile, Claire Price adopts an irritatingly worthy manner as his hastily corralled headmistress, who's embroiled in a child-custody battle. There's also a cameo appearance by four comprehensive pupils with swagger, but they're basically just lifted from the other play in the season. B-minus. Could do better.

'Double Falsehood' (020-7261 9876) to 12 Feb; 'Becky Shaw' (020-7359 4404) to 5 Mar; 'Little Platoons' (020-8743 5050) to 29 Feb

Next Week:

Kate Bassett reports on The Children's Hour, Lillian Hellman's 1934 school drama, starring Keira Knightley

Theatre Choice

Bruce Norris's sharp satire about race relations, Clybourne Park transfers from the Royal Court to Wyndham's (to 7 May). Comic yarn-spinner Daniel Kitson revives The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, a curiously comforting saga about an attic full of morose letters: tour starts at Liverpool's Everyman (Wed to Fri), then West Yorkshire Playhouse (Sat).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum