by Howard Brenton.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 24 November 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed 2.30pm Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 10 Nov 3pm (+Touch Tour 1.30pm).
Captioned 6 Nov.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 October.
Bracing new play about old politics.
Armies march on their stomachs, but politics advance on bureaucracy. Hence filing cabinets line one wall of Ashley Martin-Davis’s set. The opposite wall has a couple of doors, brusquely opened and loudly shut as history changes who’s in, who’s out between the expulsion of refusenik MPs opposed to chopping-off King Charles I’s head, and the lopping itself.
If refusenik suggests something Soviet, the drab garb of most characters in Howard Davies’ energetic production of Howard Brenton’s new play connects with the mid 20th-century. Historical processes repeat themselves, and this production implies parallels between England’s dismantling of its monarchy and European regime-changes three centuries later.
Yet many Parliamentarians would have accepted a constitutional monarchy; if Charles had used his head, it might have stayed on his shoulders. There were moderate and extremist factions who, as usual with progressives, quarrelled among themselves. Their range – from moderate solicitor John Cooke and his wife Mary, in their suburban-looking home, or Lord Thomas Fairfax, to MP William Prynne and Leveller John Lilburn – is immense.
The greatest surprise is how history’s victors achieve their end by finagling. Outclassed by a monarch whose absolutist arrogance is accompanied by considerable constitutional understanding, parliament uses its power to adjust the law.
The imprisoned Charles is preceded by bowls rolling onstage, recalling Brenton’s Weapons of Happiness which suddenly swaps south London for Stalin declaring Russia has the world’s “best – ice-hockey team”.
Meanwhile, Oliver Cromwell, approaches gradually from an absence that disables his side. God’s Englishman waits on God as later characters would on Godot, divine will seeming an excuse for indecision, contrasting Mark Gatiss’s Charles, yesterday’s man in period costume, yet haughtily confident of a vengeful return to power.
Charles’ rejection of his messenger annoys Douglas Henshall’s Cromwell and leads to that dramatist’s device, the unhistorical meeting, where personal fronts political. From there the die is cast, the ball set rolling to the dénouement.
Initial confusions are explained as events hurtle along. All is vigorously played, including by Abigail Cruttenden and Laura Rogers as the briefly-seen women, arguing intelligently at home, but sidelined in a corner by history’s sweep.
Trooper 1/Daniel Axtell: Jordan Mifsud.
Trooper 2/Thomas Pride/Priest: Gerard Monaco.
Trooper 3/Edmund Chillenden/Executioner: Jem Wall.
Henry Ireton: Daniel Flynn.
John Lilburne: Gerald Kyd.
William Lenthal: John Mackay.
Lord Thomas Fairfax: Simon Kunz.
William Prynne MP/Lord Grey/John Cooke: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor.
Thomas Harrison: Matthew Flynn.
Duke of Richmond/John Bradshaw: James Wallace.
King Charles I: Mark Gatiss.
Robert Hammond: Richard Henders.
Oliver Cromwell: Douglas Henshall.
Lady Anne Fairfax: Abigail Cruttenden.
Mary Cooke: Laura Rogers.
Troopers/Commissioners: Martin Allanson, James Askill, David William Bryan, Joe Cooper, Brian Fenton, Matthew Foster, William Heslop, Spencer Irwin, Tom Larkin, Samuel Lawrence, Thomas Lyster, Tom McAdam, Kieran Mortell, James Stirling Gillies.
Director: Howard Davies.
Designer: Ashley Martin-Davis.
Lighting: Rick Fisher.
Sound: Paul Groothuis.
Composer: Dominic Muldowney.
Dialect coach: Peny Dyer.
Assistant director: Mel Hillyard.