The Knight of the Burning Pestle, theatre review

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

The fourth wall is boisterously breached and meta-theatrical mayhem breaks loose in Francis Beaumont's 1607 play, now spiritedly revived by Adele Thomas.

A performance of “The London Merchant” is just getting under way when it's interrupted from the audience by a stroppy grocer and his wife (Phil Daniels and the excellent Pauline McLynn) who, sick of shows that make fun of the middle classes, insist that their apprentice Rafe (an endearingly solemn booby in Matthew Needham's portrayal) should appear in a heroic role. 

As two rival plays-within-a-play collide and are subjected to constant interventions from these opinionated punters, the proceedings, which genially satirise both the conventions of chivalric romance and the bad taste of tradespeople, sometimes resemble Spamalot in ruffs crossed with The Real Inspector Hound

The anarchic action spills all over the intimate, candlelit playhouse and whether sharing her bag of ginger or her cure for chilblains, McLynn as the wife is a gabby, avidly partisan joy. 

But the play seems to me funnier in theory than in practice and the production, which last three hours and is punctuated by four “interludes”, is in danger of flogging an in-joke to death.

To March 30; 020 7401 9919