Paul Johnson | 07 Nov 2011 13:38pm
Edward Kemp’s play centred around the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (a very appropriate play to see on 5th November!) is a powerful piece packed full of political intrigue,religious zealotry and persecution,and evil deeds in early 17th century England. The Tower Theatre Company under the direction of Robin Hodges delivered a punchy and heady brew of drama and pathos as required by the text and subject manner and gave a gripping evening’s entertainment in the process. In early 17th century England the death of Queen Elizabeth without a recognisable heir is the trigger point for the conflicts and machinations which eventually led to the Gunpowder Plot – the selection of James VI of Scotland to be King of England was a bitter pill to swallow for the Catholic sympathisers who felt that they would be downtrodden and their rights and status trampled underfoot by the Protestant majority, and receive no protection from the King and his followers – they wanted to install Infanta Isabella of Spain to the throne. James himself was played by Alec Cooper in an exuberant and aggressively confident manner – a fine performance although I had the feeling that as a Scot in England of questionable sexuality (not universally acceptable in 1605 – the sexuality aspect!) his approach and demeanour may have been a touch more circumspect and watchful – he appeared not to have too many stauch allies in court. The play’s central premise is this: to what extent can violence and lawlessness be justified in the name of the pursuit of high ideals and religious beliefs? Can a cause be so noble and necessary as to be able to override the will of Court and Parliament?
This premise is very striongly portayed and articulated by the leader of the Catholic rebels (‘Robert Catesby’), a beautiful performance by a sharp-eyed Laurence Ward. He displayed fervour and absolute belief in his cause, even if it involves assassination and abominable crimes. His scene in Act 2 with the Jesuit priest ‘Garnet’, played with great empathy and vulnerability by Martin South if a touch overwrought at times in which he seeks to gain eccliastical approval for his actions, is outstanding in its exquisite agony of dilemma for both parties particularly Garnet. It may be fair to say that beyond the capture of Guido Fawkes (better known to us as Guy!) by royal forces on the eve of the intended destruction of Parliament by Catholic agitators/sympathisers, perhaps not much is generally known of the background to the plot and the various key figures involved; the play gives a complete picture of the political and constitutional situation prevailing at the time and achieves this not only in narrative but in strongly drawn characters giving bravura performances. In noting performances and let it be said that all concerned were splendid in their evocation of 17th century soldiers/nobility/clergy and so forth-mention must be made of the magnificently serpentine and cruelly charming persona created by Ian Hoare as the King’s secreatry of state(and chief mover/schemer/fixer) ‘Robert Cecil’,1st Earl of Salisbury. The first half of the play necessarily meanders a little as characters and situations are established but really hots up in the second half as we move nearer the denoument, the hatching of the Gunpowder Plot and the thwarting of the same. We see a blistering series of scenes, some two-handers such as the one described between Garnet and Catesby and one in which the full evilness of Cecil is displayed as he taunts the hapless Garnet who is about to pay the ultimate price for his support of the sympathisers,albeit unfairly. The climax is bloody, gory and properly shocking and thought provoking but inevitable given the wrath of the Establishment in the wake of the very real threat to their status quo being overturned. Two very minor points. The short reenactment by masked figures towards the end of Act 1 of Albion’s history was odd, intrusive and unnecessary and the potentially comic appearance of the King’s pet Dodo(although convincingly played by Ed Malcomson when not Guido!) was an unnecessary embellishment which hinted at eccentricity by the King but did not extend the suggestion sufficiently. Whilst mentioning James I, it should be said that the scene in which he decides in a fit of pique to commission a new Bible (a very significant moment in history) was crisply and deftly portayed. The starkness of the set is appropriate as it allows the strength and passion of the narrative and the interplay between characters to unfold without extraneous distraction. The play uses the device of forwarding later happenings to the start of the piece before going back to previous events to show how things have reached this stage – a most effective dramatic device; thus we see Guido Fawkes articulating his emotions and thoughts before being put to death before the executioner arrives and he is hanged. The director gave us, I assume, opportunity to draw religious parallels to the utmost by the various staging of important discussions both by the plotters and separately by the King’s forces in Last Supper style settings: more food for thought!
So, a very fine production on all levels and to those twenty or so actors/singers not referenced individually – my apolgies!
- : admin
- : 05/11/2011