"the gross and scope of my opinion ..." Hamlet I,1.
Friday, April 24, 2015
LIGHT SHINING IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
SHINING IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Theatre at the Lyttleton
we are, on St George's day, between the Magna Carta celebrations and
the General Election. What better time to revisit Caryl Churchill's
1976 piece about the political aftermath of the Civil War. Poor
relief, an economy on the rocks, corruption and hypocrisy in
Levellers and Ranters, where,
600 years on, the ruling classes are still thought of as a foreign
foe. Where all women are considered damned. Where religion, despite
everything, still holds almost everyone in its thrall.
stunning first image [Es Devlin's sumptuous design, glowingly lit by
Bruno Poet] is a vast banqueting hall. The table – the size of a
tennis court, it seems – groans under the weight of rich food. The
nobles are sitting
it, enjoying the feast. The cloth is also the stage; the soldiers,
the revolutionaries, the dispossessed, move around amongst the huge
platters. It's a wonderful conceit, cleverly followed through, as the
cloth is removed, then the boards torn up by the Diggers to reveal
the earth of England beneath.
play is a series of scenes, some brief, some, like the verbatim
Putney debates, a little long - “we have been a great while upon
this matter ...”. But these confrontations, between Cromwell with
his right hand man Ireton and the soldiers and radicals, saw the
forging of our parliamentary system. Orwell would have appreciated
the back-tracking and the fudging. Not to mention Daniel Flynn's
parson, who, like the incumbent at Bray, is keen to keep his living
under the new order, as a parliament man becomes the new squire.
the debates move wearily to a close, the leadership decides to set up
a committee, and, suddenly, there they are in black and white, the
Puritans at the back of the stage. After the interval, it is their
turn to take their places around that broad table, scribbling away as
the Diggers rip up the floor.
a huge cast, augmented by a community company, and it's wonderful to
see them throng the stage, singing their psalms and their songs of
many excellent performances – Leo Bill's dogged Ireton, Steffan
Rhodri as Sexby [and a truculent butcher refusing to sell meat to the
bloated rich], Ashley McGuire as a down-trodden, hopeless vagrant,
Gravelle as Briggs, and
Joshua James stunningly convincing as the ranting preacher Cobbe.
Lyndsey Turner's production, design and costume details remind us
that the struggle we are witnessing is not confined to one time or
one place. Nowhere
more so than in a
second debate, where vagrants and outcasts noisily discuss the notion
of property and of God. A reminder, too, that this was originally,
and in the recent Arcola revival, a chamber piece, far removed from
Turner's sprawling epic theatre.
the Lyttleton stage does allow some superb visuals; after our
protagonists sketch their lives post-Restoration,
turn and leave,
the final scene sees one lone idealist on the empty, sodden field,
as the light shines out towards us, and a flock of birds, alarmed,
flies unseen over our heads.