Written by Caryl Churchill, Co-directed by Hannah Goodwin and Eamon Flack
Review by Charlotte Smee
The second play in Belvoir’s first repertory season, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire is the story of the revolution that could have been. From the prolific and unreal Caryl Churchill, this wordy classic dramatizes the Putney Debates of 1647. Just after King Charles I was imprisoned, the Levellers of the New Model Army, Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton came together to figure what exactly they wanted from their newfound power. All the while the Ranters, the Diggers and the rest of us waited, and waited, for God to come and solve all our problems.
Alongside Wayside Bride this play is the heavier, bleaker picture of power and the struggle to forge a better world. It begins with rows of blue plastic chairs set in rows across the stage, a welcome to country from Angeline Penrith, and a chorus of voices singing a hymn-like arrangement. Music by Alyx Dennison and Marcus Whale was a highlight, creating an eerie and militaristic soundscape throughout. Behind it all, on a cinema-style sign, a timeline of events reminds us that after the King is beheaded, Christ is coming.
Set design by Michael Hankin started as an empty gymnasium, with blank walls gradually filling with posters and graffitied slogans for the cause; “Till We Win”, “Kill The King”, “The Earth Shall Fall” and “Only the Rich Go to Hell”, among others. Neon colours in these posters and slogans were complimented by the neon orange bands worn by the New Model Army, a nice touch from Ella Butler.
Sandy Greenwood shone as the woman who had to let her baby go and refused to be touched ever after, bringing a heart to the near insanity of the Ranters around her. Emily Goddard’s commitment to the absurdity and the humanity of her various roles was also a high point of the play. Rebecca Massey brought a convincing and unusual presence to her parliamentarian and sexually “free” Ranter alike.
Varying casting in all roles, particularly in the Putney Debates scene reconstructed from surviving records, brought depth to the conversations that still ring true today. It was a subtle, yet poignant choice to cast Indigenous actresses as those who are fighting most passionately for equal voting rights, a white woman somewhere in between, and white men fighting for “rationality”. This scene was exhausting, and all too realistic in the portrayal of the arguments we hear and have over and over again.
Other productions of Churchill’s works, including Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, have included a 50-plus cast that quickly bring the stakes up a notch. This production instead featured repeating images and the effective suggestion of many people in empty chairs. It lacked in weight when actors stumbled over verbose lines or didn’t quite hit their marks like they did in Wayside Bride. Direction from Eamon Flack and Hannah Goodwin could have given more clarity in moments – their best achievements featured one or two actors facing the audience directly and speaking the emotional truths behind political debates.
The final moments of the play were its best. As each character made their way off the stage, we were left with a cardboard protest sign resting up against a chair. It read: “I can’t believe we’re still fighting for this shit”. Me neither. And still, in every way we can, we fight. We tell our stories again, and again in the hope that something will be different. Chilling viewing in 2022, and a fantastic contrast for the hope in Wayside Bride.
Light Shining in Buckinghamshire is part of Belvoir’s rep season with Wayside Bride, playing until 29 May. It is also one of our April cheap thrills.
Tickets can be found from $35 – $91 here.
Photos by Teniola Komolafe
(Wayside Bride only)
(Wayside Bride only)
Costume Designer Ella Butler
Set Designer Michael Hankin
Sound Designer & Composer
Choreographer Elle Evangelista
Fight Director Nigel Poulton
Vocal Coach Danielle Roffe
Costume Design Associate
Set Design Associate
Belinda Crawford and
Special Effects Engineer
Andrew Cameron Fellow
Assistant Stage Managers
Amelia Grindrod and
(Light Shining only)
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