Jane Brown went to see Shakespeare in Terror Upstairs at the Carriageworks (Clue is in the name, Jane!) …
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I turned up at The Carriageworks in The Electric Press to see ‘Shakespeare in Terror’ written by Helen Shay. I did wonder if I should have brushed up my Shakespeare knowledge last visited in my O’ levels in the middle 80s.
My husband did his usual theatre trick, and headed straight to the bar leaving us a little short of time. We dashed to the theatre and quickly realised we’d entered the wrong one. Panto! Clearly not what we were expecting to see. We had to hurry up a floor to find our ‘play’.
A very small studio theatre with around forty seats. The scene was aptly set with shallow lighting, creating the perfect mood for the autumn of 1605.
A small cast of six, Shakespeare, Guido Fawkes, better known as Guy, three witches, Thunder, Lighting and Rain, and the infamous Landlord of the Mermaid hostelry, who also doubled up as the Tower of London jailer.
A comedy / drama based on truth, rumour, gossip, and fantasy, it offered a modern day and thoroughly original angle on the long held rumour that Shakespeare had met Fawkes in the days before Parliament was due to open 1605. It’s known he was in London in the Autumn of 1605, and it’s also very probable that Fawkes and his co-conspirators were drinking acquaintances of Shakespeare’s father in the Mermaid Tavern.
The plot finds our hero with a severe case of writer’s block and in love with one of the three witches, who seems to plague his soul.
Commissioned by James the Second to produce material, in much the same way a modern musician is held to ransom by a record company, Shakespeare struggles to find the inspiration to produce the goods. A chance meeting in the public house with Guido Fawkes allowed them both to explore their souls, with the playwrite finding inspirational material, and Fawkes searching the depths of his conscience with regard to innocent people (both Catholic and Protestant) losing their lives in his plot to blow up the government. This examines the long debated question, was Fawkes the real mastermind behind the plot 5:11 plot?
After Shakespeare sent a letter warning of the impeding atrocity (was he warning Catholics, or both Catholics and Protestants) Shakespeare and Fawkes were arrested. Both were interrogated. The agonies of Fawkes’s torture screaming out from the wings coincided with mass crowd participation from the panto below of, ‘it is fun to stay at the YMCA’, a sentiment that Guy Fawkes would have probably gone along with in comparison to his stay at the Tower of London and his subsequent disembowelment.
The devious and glamorous witches’ added an intriguing backdrop to the tale, including a marriage, affairs, a lovechild, and a near illegal wedding, all at a time when witchcraft and spells were common place. Shakespeare, with the help of the witches – who have it in for King James because of his mistreatment of alleged ‘Catholic witches’ – escaped by the skin of his teeth on the proviso he wrote a play for the Scots to appease James, which he did.
A cracking play full of contemporary references, including nods to payday loans, terrorism, and the Bard writing plays on a tablet, through to the hostelry landlord’s greeting of ‘ pleased to meet you hope you get my name’. A play sure to leave everyone logging straight onto Google to find out more about the history of a truly intriguing tryst.
The story finished as it had started with the landlord acting as narrator to close the story.
This is a writer’s attempt to offer a new perspective on an age old mystery while leaving enough to the imagination for the story to rumble on.
A play that would lend itself well to a larger stage and cast possibly an outdoor amphitheatre.