The Fair Maid of the West is generously supported by RSC Production Circle Member Kathleen J. Yoh and by the RSC Friends.
New Work at the RSC is generously supported by Hawthornden Foundation and The Drue and H.J. Heinz II Charitable Trust
Liz Bridges might seem ordinary, but it turns out that a life spent lending ears, mending hearts and serving beers has all been in preparation for the ultimate test of her character.
The Fair Maid of the West synopsis
We are in Plymouth, 1598, in a pub. The regulars are complaining about the war with Spain. The landlord of the pub is rude and greedy, but his rat-catcher, Liz, is kind and remembers all the regulars, even those who are down on their luck.
Spencer arrives, and proposes to Liz, even though he’s never spoken to her, only seen her from afar. Liz turns him down. Some rich merchants come into the pub and a fight gets started as Spencer defends Liz’s honour, against her wishes. One of the merchants is killed, and Liz is blamed.
Spencer gives Liz the keys to one of his family’s pubs in Cornwall and she flees to become landlady at The Crown. When she arrives, she meets an orphan who lives in the pub, Clem. They decide to run the pub together, and to rename it, The Open Arms.
Liz meets the locals and forms a plan to get the local community invested in the pub, she listens to their problems, gives them advice, organises activities and classes, and holds auditions for live entertainment.
Liz and Clem befriend some locals, Windbag, the postman, Bardolf, a recent divorcee, and Roughman, who Liz employs as a doorman after he threatens to kill her.
Business really picks up and there is more work than Liz and Clem can handle. Unbeknownst to Liz, Spencer starts working at the pub overnight, hiding in the cellar, cleaning all the bottles and learning to catch rats himself. He is revealed and eventually covers a shift on the bar. Afterwards, he tells her that he’s off to Spain to become a barber-surgeon and learn the medical skills that would have saved the dying merchant at their first meeting.
Liz waits for a letter from Spencer, but months later she receives one from his boss. He’s been captured by the Spanish and will be executed.
Liz descends into despair like so many of those she helped months ago. Eventually she decides to go to Spain to retrieve Spencer’s body and give him a proper burial in Cornwall. Roughman, Clem, Bardolf, and Windbag volunteer to go with her. However, they are in for more than they bargained. The sea is treacherous and full of Spanish ships, and the shore is even more dangerous, crawling with soldiers as the new King is about to be crowned.
Trying to blend in, our heroic travellers seek out a taverna. Parading the town to celebrate his coronation, The King arrives and Liz finds herself face-to-face with the one man who can bring the end to the Anglo-Spanish war. The King’s quick-to-anger advisor, the Duke de Lerma threatens to arrest and execute our heroes as English spies. Liz must use all of her wits and experience to persuade them to spare their lives.