Preview: The Faerie Queen, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

The third book in Sir Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queen has been adapted for the stage by Cilgwyn Theatre Company.

Written in 1590, The Faerie Queen was as much a romantic narrative as a political poem that questioned the power of England. Staging such a production is no small feat, according to its director, Tom Cornford, whose production has cut hundreds of pages of the poem to focus on the story of the female knight, Britomart.

As a young girl she looks into a magical mirror where her destiny is revealed. She goes to find the man whose face she saw and secure the future of England. "It puts a twist on the epic story that usually involves male heroes and women running around after them being pathetic," says Cornford. "She is disguised as a man. Everybody thinks she is a man and she behaves like one, but she is on a quest to find the man she is to marry."

The production also puts a spotlight on another of the poem's characters, the beautiful Florimell, who has to fight off suitors to find her wounded knight, and gets captured by Proteus.

"It is different for Florimell as she does not have this sense of destiny that Britomart has to follow, and she travels as herself. People chase her and she runs away from a monster and lands up in a boat with a fisherman who tries to attack her. She is saved by a sea-god who falls in love with her and imprisons her under the sea, and she must be rescued by her knight."

This circus-inspired production includes acrobatic and aerial choreography alongside puppetry.

"We have to develop a language for these extraordinary events, which are not easy to translate onto a stage," says Cornford. "This morning we are looking at how to stage the fall of the goddess of delusion and ruin, who is thrown out of heaven down to earth."

Cornford's credits include David Mamet's The Shawl at London's Gate Theatre in 2004 and Shakespeare's Richard III at the Cambridge Arts Centre in 2006.

11 to 29 December (0844 412 4300; www.sadlerswells.com)

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