Malmsey Wine in Tenerife

Sarah and I flew to the Canaries to meet up with Carlos Belda and Fefi Suarez from Teatro Tamaska with whom we are developing The Malmsey Wine/Malvasia project. This production is based around the long-standing trade relationship between England and Tenerife, centred on the Malvasia wine which became famous in Elizabethan England and was mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry IV, Loves Labours Lost and Richard III.


In El Sauzal, northern Tenerife, we had a week of research with two local actors, Carmen and Vera (that's a bloke by the way), and Paddy Burton from Jack Drum and who has performed with TSF in La Pelota Mágica and Contes Dorés. We were joined by Sophie Millon who has appeared with us in The Black Tulip, A Tale of Two Cities and Aladin et La Lampe Enchantée.


We all spent time investigating the history of Malmsey (Malvasia) wine and its peculiar ability to improve its taste while travelling on-ship over the oceans. Links between the UK and Spain were interpreted through the characters of Sir John Falstaff and Sancho Panza. The narrative will involve the selling of a bottle of Malvasia apparently owned by Thomas Jefferson. Malvasia was the tipple of choice at that time and was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


Research also included visiting a local vineyard where a Tenerifean wine expert filled us in on the history, character and description of the Malmsey. We made a trip to Garachico on the north coast where in 1666 the local producers broke the barrels of wine they were selling to the British in a protest at their monopoly and fixing of prices - the Canarian equivalent of the Boston Tea Party.


Other improvs included the world of Pirates, Sir Francis Drake and much carousing:


“You have drunk too much Canaries; and that’s a marvellous searching wine”

Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 2


The next phase of development is in Hexham in July. Watch this space!

John Cobb