THE MAGNA CARTA PLAYS
by Anders Lustgarten, Rose Sally Woodcock, Howard Brenton, Timberlake Wertenbaker.
Salisbury Playhouse Malthouse Lane SP2 7RA To 7 November 2015.
Mon-Sat 730pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.15pm.
Audio-described (+ Touch Tour) 5 Nov 2.30pm & 7.30pm.
BSL Signed 4 Nov.
Captioned 3 Nov.
Post-show Discussion 3 Nov.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01722 320333.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 October.
A multi-faceted, critical celebration.
With an original Magna Carta manuscript in the nearby Cathedral, Salisbury Playhouse celebrates the document’s 800th anniversary boldly with a main-stage run of four new plays under this overall title. Four playwrights bring a diversity of approaches and interests, yet also the risk that the impact will remain fragmented.
The first, longer section is something of a long haul. Most openly political of playwrights Anders Lustgarten offers a highly-coloured, comic-strip picture of medieval lords gorging themselves on food and spitting-out their vicious greed in verse, with commoner Sprocket our low-born guide and their menial advisor. The new young king’s an anachronistic rapper. It’s fun but unambitious.
Then matters move to the modern and the document’s sometimes doubtful shadow. Sally Woodcock takes an interestingly individual approach. ‘Magna Carta’ was first so called when a smaller charter appeared in 1217, dealing with forests. Under King John a forest needn’t have trees, but was designated as royal land. For Robin Hood to live in Sherwood Forest was itself a political act.
Using her Kenyan background, Woodcock has an African President land-grab a forest for a theme-park, giving Magna Carta an international dimension, related to present-day corporate acquisitions, depopulations and despoliation. But a surfeit of dramatic mannerisms over a long span throttle its good qualities. Without editing a capable writer is left cruelly exposed.
Audience rewards come after the interval. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s precisely-written We Sell Right shows the Charter undermined by commercial totalitarianism, something the likes of TTIP make all too credible. Money replaces 1984-like politics in controlling lives. Names of important concepts must be bought for private use or they become unavailable, the ideas behind them facing oblivion.
Before that, Howard Brenton’s Ransomed provides an action thriller, befitting a Spooks scriptwriter. Involving the Charter’s theft from a cathedral, Russian oligarchs and rivalry within British security forces, its fast pace includes humour and final confusion leading to a disaster which might just signal progress. Does Magna Carta exist on paper or in human motivation? Ransomed asks.
Director Gareth Machin’s cast provide fine performances, while Ellan Parry’s scaffold-based design shapes the action with admirable flexibility.
by Anders Lustgarten:
Earl Grabber: Tim Frances.
Duke Venal: Trevor Michael Georges.
Lady Plunder: Juliet Howland.
Sprocket: Mark Meadows.
Lord Lamprey: Michael Mears.
King Henry III: Ben Stott.
by Sally Woodcock.
President: Trevor Michael Georges.
Angelica: Vivienne Rochester.
Jasper: Tim Frances.
by Howard Brenton.
Yury Stanovich Koba: Tim Frances.
Caroline Montfichet: Juliet Howland.
Mrs Maddeley Coach: Frances Jeater.
Roger Sylvester: Mark Meadows.
Canon Simon St John: Michael Mears.
Police Constable Harold Budd: Ben Stott.
Detective Inspector Ellie Baxter: Joanna Van Kampen.
We Sell Right
by Timberlake Wertenbaker.
Older Women: Frances Jeater, Vivienne Rochester.
Girl: Joanna Van Kampen.
Director: Gareth Machin.
Designer: Ellan Parry.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound/Composer: Helen Skiera.
Video: Mark Noble.
Movement: Asha Jennings-Grant.
Voice/Dialect: Kay Welch.
Fight director: Paul Benzing.
Assistant director: Jo Newman.
The Magna Carta Plays was commissioned by Salisbury Playhouse, and first performed there on 22 October 2015.