GUNPOWDER PLOT IS GIVEN THEATRICAL FIZZ
Written by: Bill Cain
Directed by: Peter Hambleton
at Circa One, Wellington
From 24 May 2014 to 21 Jun 2014
Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson, 26 May 2014
originally published in The Dominion Post
Bill Cain's intricately structured, entertaining but over-long comedy-drama about Shakespeare and the Gunpowder Plot has been given an exciting production by director Peter Hambleton, aided by Andrew Foster's Globe-like thrust stage and Donna Jefferis' superb costumes.
Equivocation is about “telling the truth in difficult times” and is concerned with Shakespeare being pressured by Sir Robert Cecil, King James' Secretary of State, to write a play vilifying the conspirators who planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
Shakespeare's actors are rehearsing his latest play, King Lear, which they find is too avant-garde, nor are they happy with Cecil's commission as they don't do plays about contemporary politics, ignoring the fact that Shakespeare's Richard II had been used politically by the Earl of Essex and the company did not suffer any royal retribution.
The actors aren't happy either with the scenes from the Gunpowder play, and Shakespeare is concerned about the official evidence on the conspirators and then he is unsettled when he interviews a Jesuit priest (Father Henry Garnet), an equivocator who may or may not be a traitor, before he is hung, drawn and quartered.
Eventually the play is discarded and Shakespeare writes Macbeth to fill the gap, much to the delight of King James who gets gleefully excited about the witches and his royal ancestors in the play.
Five actors play the members of the Lord Chamberlain's Men as well as numerous lesser roles: Andrew Foster, a thoughtful, impassioned Shakespeare; Paul McLaughlin, Burbage, the imperious leading actor (and a devout Garnet); Tom Eason, Sharpe, a neophyte actor (and a funny, gangly King James); Jason Whyte, Nate an older actor (and a frightening Robert Cecil); and Gavin Rutherford, Armin, a portly boy actor (and a funny Porter).
The lone actress is Tai Berdinner-Blades who plays Shakespeare's daughter Judith, who has a distant relationship with her father and his love of theatre (“I don't like soliloquies” she says as she addresses the audience).
She performs the final scene beautifully with restraint and an inner stillness which is a wonderful relief after far too much unnecessary shouting from the men, the only blot on their excellent performances.
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