The Ketterick Festival revolves around the Saracen’s Head, a Jacobean inn with its inn-yard and balconies miraculously preserved intact, due to the sloth of successive landlords. Here in festival time are performed the lesser-known masterpieces of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre. This year it is The Chaste Apprentice of Bowe (a play of uncertain authorship, since no one owned up at the time). But the actors find that the Saracen’s Head has been transformed by its new landlord – an Australian know-all with an insatiable curiosity and an instinct for power. The loathsome Des’s activities bring him into conflict with actors, committee, even the performers of Adelaide di Birckenhead, the little-known Donizetti opera that is the other lynchpin of the Festival programme. So adept is Des at fomenting friction and ferreting in the undergrowth of private lives that it is not surprising that it all ends in biers.
Barnard’s festive romp spares no one in the arts world, and even suggests a solution to a long-felt operatic want, showing once again why he has been called ‘a specialist in snide japery’ (Time Magazine), whose mysteries are ‘among the best’ (New York Times).