Thomas More, what a guy!
This play actually takes place in Henry VIII’s reign, although the sole concession either play makes to this is one mention in Henry VIII that Thomas More has just been appointed to the cabinet. It’s the story of the life of Thomas More, told in a series of important *cough* yet humourous *cough* anecdotes. Thomas More, our eponymous hero, is just a normal Londoner, except for his amazing abilities to quell rabbles with a word, dispense justice fairly and wisely, and play witty *cough* practical jokes.
The play starts with London in chaos, because Foreigners have been stealing the locals birds (both pigeons and wives). Oh, the birds! Chris and Lynnette introduced two new cuddly toys to the growing ranks of fluffy bardcamp actors in the shape of a blackbird and a goldfinch. They went tweet when you squeezed them, and were joyously cute – perhaps the only thing cuter was Daniel making “bird! bird!” signs. They made their bardcamp acting debut as the stolen pair of pigeons (although greater things were in store for the goldfinch). Riots break out (Lucy was superb playing Doll, the feisty rabble rouser) and London looks headed to the flame and fire, until Thomas More (what a guy!) turns up and gives an impassioned speech about how this is all going to end in death or exile, and how if they were exiles they would be foreigners, and how we should do unto others as we would like others to do unto us. Which remarkably, works (which is a shame, because I’d have loved to have heard Thomas More’s (what a guy!) witty and wise answer to someone pointing out that we didn’t hate them because they were foreign, just because they’d stolen our birds and behaved like total arses. So Thomas More (WAG!) tells them all to give themselves up and they will be pardoned.
The rabble dutifully give themselves up, but news travels slowly in London, and the jailors start to hang them all. Has Thomas More actually been proved to be an evil double crosser who lied to stop the riot? Of course not! He turns up in the nick of time (well, too late to save one of them, but just in time to save the feisty Doll, who has conveniently saved her life by being excessively cute saying goodbye to her husband) and stops the hanging. What a guy!
The play continues with odd scenes from the life of Thomas More, such as his fair an even dispensing of justice (you can stay in jail until you cut your hair, boy) and his witty humour (I know! Erasmus is coming to visit! I’ll wear your clothes and you can pretend to be me!). It doesn’t really hang together that well as a play, until you start to think of it as some crazy soap-opera comedy; “this week, in the Life of Thomas More”
I was playing Thomas More’s wife. This was my starring opportunity to wear a pretty dress all of my very own, and have a part that didn’t involve me doing anything phenomenally difficult, like singing, having a cod accent, or killing people. It was great! A friend of mine has a theory that you can roughly divide people into two types, those who are fabulous people in their work and public life, but scummy to their families, and those who are kind and generous to their families, and grumpy at work. It’s an oversimplification (which I think he’d be the first to admit) but one that fits quite well as an interpretation of Thomas More’s treatment of his wife. The first time we see them together is when Thomas More is throwing a large and fabulous dinner party for the Lord Mayor and friends. When a roving theatre troop pass by the house minutes beforehand, it is only natural that Thomas More (what a guy!) should invite them in to entertain the guests. Because what every hostess wants is an unexpected play to appear in the middle of her dinner party. And then for her husband to join in, because the players are so inept they’re one actor short. And then for him to run off early in the middle of the show, because something more important came up. What a guy! His general attitude to her is pretty appalling and belittling “I’ll worry about where the men are going to sit, you need only bother your pretty little head with the women”; “oh no, we’re both in the kitchen, how dare you leave our guests on their own” (when she was their first!); and “Don’t be sad, dear! I’ll speak in Latin at you if you’re sad”.
Really, I don’t think they’re a very good match. The whole thing reminds me very much of Lydgate and Rosamund from Middlemarch (although Middlemarch focuses on the story of the relationship far more than Thomas More, where we just see it through glimpses) Thomas More has an eye for the Grand. He is witty and generous and warm and humourous and prepaired to die for his principals. Lady More has Rosamund’s love of the material, and is more practical, pragmatic, small minded and realistic – she would much rather Thomas More just signed the damn articles so he could continue to look after her and her daughters and they could enjoy their court lifestyle. This description makes her sound rather nasty, which isn’t the case. I mean, there are a million and one things where I would actually choose a Lady More type person to work with than a Thomas More, for all he’s What a Guy! And I take Elly’s point that they do love each other very much. But I don’t think they’ve ever understood each other.
Anyway, the play draws to the end with the story of Thomas More refusing to sign the articles annulling Henry VIII’s marriage. Or rather, it doesn’t, because at the time it was written it was too politically sensitive to actually spell out what the plot point was, so the play ended with Thomas More refusing to sign some articles, and conveniently side stepping the question of what or why every time it came up, This leads to his dismissal from Court, and his eventual execution, which he faces wisely and wittily as always. As humourous *cough* joke piled on humourous joke, I was really just waiting for him to burst into “Always look on the bright side of life”.
Ah, but he was so warm and wise and witty and gracious and kind, which I think is as much due to Elly’s acting as to his actual lines, as it would have been very easy to make him a git. What a Guy!
This is a play which I am afraid I remember far more for the sheer amount of Musical Stuff in it than for any particular plot. I think, like Thomas More, it suffers from having been produced far too near the time it refers to, and so instead of telling the story of Henry VIII, it shows strange and unexpected snapshots of his life without ever giving us much of a clue what’s going on. It’s a bit like watching Have I Got News For You at the end of a week when you haven’t heard the News. It’s quite possible to glean that Wolsey is Evil, that the king is trying to get Rome to annul his marriage with Katharine, that he’s falling for Anne Boleyn, and that there is some sort of plot against Cramner, but all the detail of what is happening and why, and all the Big Dramatic Scenes that sit within the time period don’t make it as far as the play.
I must admit that I was quite jealous of Mark for being Wolsey, as it is the best part in the play by far and there are some glorious speeches both as evil!Wolsey and repentant!Wolsey. Still, he did it far better than I would have done, so I suppose I’d better get over it :-)
Oh, and Roz as Cramner. She was adorable. I just wanted to hug her lots and lots for being so naïve and cute…
And Robert as Henry, and Ashfae as the Queen... (Danger! Castlisting syndrome approaching! Stop now and back away!)
There were two dances and a coronation anthem in Henry VIII. I was a little scared of being Bardcamp Master of Dance, because it has been a long long time since I have done any calling, and a fairly long time since I had even done any dancing. And I procrastinated sorting out the dances until we were far too near Bardcamp, and would have been really quite doomed if it hadn’t been for the fact you can just wave a melody line at Chris J one day and have a full setting for mystic vision by the next. It’s quite a talent. The first dance was the dancing at a ball, over which Henry and Anne would first lock eyes. This immediately introduces a whole host of constraints – it has to be a dance where you dance flirtatiously with your own partner, rather than just with whoever happens to be your corner this time through, and it has to be danceable in Catriona’s fabulous Anne Boleyn costume. Catriona had a great vision that everyone at Bardcamp could join in, but the chapel is of limited size, and not everyone at Bardcamp could stay awake for the dancing rehearsal, so in the end I went for 3 pairs of couples dancing a strange bowdlerised Childgrove that didn’t progress. I was pleased with how it worked, even if Anne Boleyn was flirting just as much with Lord Nick Metcalfe as with Henry VIII.
The second dance is Queen Katharine’s vision, which I am not sure I can do any more justice to than the description in the text: The vision. Enter, solemnly tripping one after another, six personages, clad in white robes, wearing on their heads garlands of bays, and golden vizards on their faces; branches of bays or palm in their hands. They first congee unto her, then dance; and, at certain changes, the first two hold a spare garland over her head; at which the other four make reverent curtsies; then the two that held the garland deliver the same to the other next two, who observe the same order in their changes, and holding the garland over her head: which done, they deliver the same garland to the last two, who likewise observe the same order: at which, as it were by inspiration, she makes in her sleep signs of rejoicing, and holdeth up her hands to heaven: and so in their dancing vanish, carrying the garland with them.
Catriona sent me the most hilarious email with this, explaining that “My exhaustive researches suggest that 'congee' is basically rice pudding, however 'conge' is a ceremonial bow, so we should probably go with that. I was vaguely hoping that it was the early modern version of 'conga' though.”
But there wasn’t any rice pudding, white robes or garlands, so we had to make do with the ceremonial bows, black and white alternating t-shirts, and gold vizades. This led to a wonderful Blue-Peter-esque moment straight before the play, as 6 mystical dancers all tried to make a gold vizade with 99p Tesco’s gold card and only 2 pairs of scissors. Still, it all seemed to work alright in the end.
After much LiveJournal discussion, it had been decided that a suitable coronation anthem for a small 12 person choir to sing at the coronation of the Queen was Zadok the Priest. Don’t ask me why! Actually it was stunning, as it all came together, with Matthew conducting fit to burst and the choir blaring out. I, knowing the limitations of my singing yet wanting to be helpful, had ended up page-turning, which was surprisingly good fun. So now as one of my many post bardcamp earworms I occasionally get snatches of “God save the King! Long Live the King! May the King live forever!” running through my head…
And Daniel had his first cross-dressing role, playing the baby Elizabeth at the christening. Awh!