Phillip Breen directed Thomas Dekker's city comedy of class, conflict and cobblers in love.

Play Trailer

Rowland Lacy loves Rose Oatley but an aristocrat and a middle class girl aren't supposed to marry, not least because Rowland is a very bad boy and her parents really don't approve.

When his father sends him to war to reform his ways, Rowland goes from riches to rags. Losing himself among the craftsmen of London he assumes the guise of a Dutch shoemaker at the shop of the larger-than-life Simon Eyre and his wife Margery who are decidedly on their way from rags to riches.

The Shoemaker's Holiday played in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from December 2014 to March 2015.


Ben Allen - Askew
Ross Armstrong - Warner
Daniel Boyd - Ralph Damport
Vincent Carmichael - Earl of Lincoln
Laura Cubitt - Seamstress 
Hedydd Dylan - Jane Damport
Sandy Foster - Sybil
William Gaminara - Sir Roger Oatley
Michael Grady-Hall - Lovell
Jack Holden - Skipper/The King 
Andrew Langtree - Dodger
Joel MacCormack - Firk
Tom McCall - Hodge (originally played by Michael Hodgson)
Josh O'Connor - Rowland Lacy
Vivien Parry - Margery Eyre
Thomasin Rand - Rose Oatley
David Troughton - Simon Eyre
Jamie Wilkes - Hammon


Director - Phillip Breen
Designer - Max Jones
Lighting - Tina MacHugh 
Music - Jason Carr
Sound - Andrea J Cox 
Movement - Ayse Tashkiran
Fights - Renny Krupinski


 Before the start of the action, Lacy went bankrupt on a Continental tour, and learned the cobbler's trade in Wittenberg. On his return to England, he fell in love with Rose Oatley, but they fall foul of disapproving relatives: the Earl of Lincoln contrives for Lacy to leave the country as a commander in the French wars, and her father takes her away to his country house.

Joining the army

The newly married shoemaker Ralph is recruited into the army and takes a sad leave of his wife, Jane, and his colleagues.

Lacy, however, deserts after the troops take ship: he sends his cousin to war in his place, and returns to London in the hope of making contact with Rose. Disguised as a Dutch shoemaker, Hans, he seeks employment with Simon Eyre and, though the business does not need another journeyman, he is accepted because Eyre's other workmen like him.

Prosperity arrives

A Dutch ship arrives in London with a rich cargo of luxury items, which the skipper offers at a bargain price; Lacy helps Eyre to buy the goods, using the money Lincoln gave him for his expenses in France.

Eyre grows prosperous and becomes first an alderman, then Sheriff, and makes over his shop to his foreman, Hodge.

In the country, Rose meets Hammon during a hunt, and her father thinks him a suitable son-in-law; at the betrothal, however, she rejects him and declares that she will live a maid.

Hammon decides to try his luck with a London shopkeeper instead.

Ralph comes home

The English rout the French in battle with relatively few fatal casualties, but Ralph is injured and comes home lame. He finds that Jane, forced to make her own living in his absence, has disappeared.

Eyre is invited to dine with Oatley in the country, and the shoemakers accompany him to provide musical entertainment. Oatley hopes that the Eyres will talk some marital sense into Rose, but she recognizes one of the morris-dancing shoemakers as Lacy. She summons him the following day on the pretext of fitting her shoes, and they elope.

Oatley and Lincoln are decoyed to wait at the wrong church, but the couple are married before they realize their mistake.

Hammon courts Jane

Meanwhile Hammon courts Jane, who is working as a seamstress, and overcomes her lack of interest by showing her Ralph's name on a list of the war dead.

He orders a new pair of shoes for her to wear at the wedding, and sends one of her old ones as a model; Ralph recognizes it and his fellow shoemakers help him to intercept the wedding party before they reach the church. Jane is delighted that her true love is still alive; Hammon attempts to bribe Ralph to give her up, but withdraws gracefully after a rebuff.

A new mayor

Heavy mortality among the London Aldermen secures Eyre's early appointment as Lord Mayor. He invites all the city's apprentices to breakfast in a new civic building he has erected, and declares Shrove Tuesday a general holiday.

Stop reading now if you don't want to know how the story ends ...

Interested by his madcap reputation, the King comes to dine with him, and is persuaded to pardon Lacy his desertion; Oatley and Lincoln arrive too late to break up his marriage by laying an effective accusation of treason. The King licences a market at Eyre's new building, which he names Leadenhall, and declares his intention to resume the war with France.

Synopsis reproduced with permission from Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue (Oxford, 2012- ).


The Swan Theatre has become home to Shakespeare's contemporaries - playwrights that influenced Shakespeare and those influenced by him - from Jonson to Middleton to Marlowe to Webster. 

What do you know about Thomas Dekker, writer of The Shoemaker's Holiday?

  •  Dekker is a very mysterious historical figure - nothing is known for certain of his life before 1598 when his name appears in entries in Philip Henslowe's Diary. 

  •  Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson (the author of Volponewere not one another's biggest fans. Jonson referred to Dekker as a 'dresser of plays about town' and satirised him in Poetaster and Cynthia's Revels. Dekker responded to this by satirising Jonson in Satiromastix as Horace, an arrogant and overbearing hypocrite.  

  • 1599 was a big year for Dekker. He began it in Ludgate debtors prison and ended it by having his play The Shoemaker's Holiday played at court in front of Elizabeth I on 31 December, one of the most prestigious slots in the Christmas revels  

  •  In 1612 Dekker's debt problems saw him imprisoned yet again, due to owing the father of John Webster (The White Devil) £40. This time he was imprisoned for seven years, remarking that the experience turned his hair white.  

  • Dekker was an extremely prolific writer and personally claimed to have been involved in the writing of 240 plays. Sadly, however, most of his work is lost, and only twenty of his plays are known to have been published in his lifetime.  

  • He was also a master of collaboration. Dekker co-authored many plays of the Jacobean period, including The Witch of Edmonton, which he wrote with William Rowley and John Ford.  

  • In the two years between 1598 and 1600 Dekker was associated with 28 (or more) plays, as sole or joint author. That's more than a play a month!  

  •  Dekker composed the annual pageant for the Lord Mayor four times – In 1612, 1627, 1628 and 1629.  

  • The Beatles were obviously huge Dekker fans as they included the lyrics of his ballad Cradle Song in their 1969 song, Golden Slumbers.


Director Philip Breen explains the significance of shoemaking and Dekker's play The Shoemaker'sHoliday in the year it was first performed.

1599 was a remarkable year. Shakespeare opened the Globe Theatre, wrote Henry VAs You Like It and Julius Caesar - and possibly started work on Hamlet

Queen Elizabeth was mired in a situation in Ireland akin to the Cuban Missile Crisis - complete with its own 'Bay of Pigs' style military clangers. One in five men in the country passed through Ireland during the long campaign. At its height three in five conscripts were either killed or maimed. This war cost Elizabeth over £1 million, dwarfing what was spent on the defeat of the Armada in 1588.

This colossal amount of money that was being spent had a very particular resonance with the people. They were four years into a recession and a series of food price hikes (caused by a series of grain failures in between 1594-97) which were leading to rural famine and starvation in the city. And on Shrove Tuesday the apprentices rioted, traditional hijinks tipped over in to violence and the ringleaders were publicly executed.

Dekker the debtor
It was a big year for Thomas Dekker too. He began 1599 in Ludgate debtors' prison (a place he came to know very well) and ended it by having his play The Shoemaker's Holiday played at court in front of the Queen on 31 December; one of the most prestigious slots in the Christmas revels. What made a play about shoemakers one of the stand-out hits of a pretty competitive dramatic year? Why did Elizabeth I want to be seen to be watching it?

To the modern ear, the title of The Shoemaker's Holiday perhaps conjures up images of Grimm's fairy tales, ruddy faced yeomen working by open fires stitching pointy slippers. The title conjured up very different images in the Elizabethan imagination.

Shoes - sexy since 1599
Firstly, shoemaking is sexy. Really, really sexy. In an age of heightened division between the sexes, the shoemaker got to hold women's feet and hang around the hems of skirts. They made goods that changed the way women walked, and made them feel sexy and confident. 

Shoes were expensive luxury items, made bespoke from an individual cast modelled on the exact contours of the wearer's foot. Imagine the illicit conversations between wealthy women and the skilled young male artisans who stroked their calves, held their ankles and cupped their heels - whom they requested time and again to craft the objects that made them the talk of polite society. The latest innovation in ladies' couture in the very late 16th century was the first appearance of the high heel. The queen was crazy about them.

'The gentle craft'
Shoemakers themselves have always regarded themselves as a cut above the other trades. Simon Eyre's mantra 'prince am I none, yet nobly am I born being the sole son of a shoemaker' would probably have drawn knowing laughs from an audience made up of large numbers of young male apprentices. 

The joke of a shoemaker actually becoming Mayor of London and acquiring a ludicrous amount of cash was probably not lost either. In depictions of shoemakers in art across Europe they are often seen reading (taking a particular interest in politics and philosophy) and holding court to anyone who'd listen. 

By the time Shrove Tuesday 1599 rolled around - the traditional holiday for apprentices - this interest in politics had become practical, quasi-organised and violent. Precisely what the make up of Shrovetide mobs was is lost to history, but in the opening lines of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar we see Flavius and Murrellus chastising an unruly and far too talkative cobbler. The carpenter by comparison is given only five words.

During the middle months of 1599 both Shakespeare and Dekker had turned their dramatic antennae towards the problems of mobs, and mob violence in all strata of society. And when mobs were depicted the shoemakers were never far from the fray.

Perhaps Elizabeth's choice of New Year's entertainment at the end of 1599 was a gesture from a beleaguered court to express solidarity with the suffering masses, an attempt to draw some of the resentment towards authority. Perhaps it was the authorities implicitly telling the great unwashed that their queen knows exactly what they are up to. What better way to stifle a nascent revolution than to invite it to a party at court?

To the Elizabethan ear - the title The Shoemaker's Holiday (or A Pleasant Comedy of the Gentle Craft) promised laughs aplenty but it also had a strong political flavour, it implied topicality, danger and no little erotic promise too.

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