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THEATRE REVIEW: 5/11, Act II Theatre Company, St Mary's Church, Long Sutton

There is no such thing as a simple task when it comes to Act II Theatre Company.

So why not stretch a group of secondary school-aged stage stars just that little bit further by setting them the challenge of acting out the Gunpowder Plot of November 5, 1605?

But this was no nursery rhyme as director Karl Gernert asked Year 7 to 11 students to find their inner Guy Fawkes, Freddie Krueger, Michael Myers and every other historic villain, fictional or real, and put it all out in the setting of Long Sutton's nearly 850-year-old St Mary's Church.

The cast of Act II's 5-11 at St Mary's Church, Long Sutton. Photo supplied. (5190670)
The cast of Act II's 5-11 at St Mary's Church, Long Sutton. Photo supplied. (5190670)

History says that Guy Fawkes, marked in his home city of York by a medieval inn on the very spot where he was born, and his fellow plotters were behind a failed attempt to blow up King James I and Parliament in order to end the persecution of Roman Catholics in England.

However, in keeping with Act II's billing of the play as a "visceral retelling of the lead up to, execution and ultimate failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605", Elizabethan costumes were replaced by 21st century casual and formal dress as the cast of youngsters tackled some of the most demanding, challenging and positively Shakespearean dialogue they will ever have to face.

The play was also contextualised further by running the on-screen narration of the Gunpowder Plot in parallel with the earth-shattering outrage now known as 9/11 when terrorists hijacked four aeroplanes and deliberately flew them into strategically chosen targets across the United States of America.

As the drama unfolded at Long Sutton Parish Church last night (Saturday), it was clear that the parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties and other members of the largely, but not entirely, adult audience, it was clear that extreme concentration and surreal imagination would be needed to follow the plotters and those who ultimately stopped them.

Without exception, the performances from Act II's Drama Group were earnest, sincere, mature and utterly believeable.

The sheer demands on teenagers, barely out of primary school, to understand early 17th century English culture were considerable.

But the relish shown by the cast, particularly Fawkes, Robert Catesby (the real brainchild of the Gunpowder Plot), Thomas Percy, Thomas and Robert Winter, Suffolk, King James and Queen Anne, showed that this play went far beyond a weekend history lesson.

In complexity alone, 5/11 was one stop away from tackling Shakespeare's most substantial tragedies (Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth or Othello).

But Act II's Drama Group took up the gauntlet of an exceptional setting (St Mary's Church) just two days before the official Bonfire Night to present an alternative vision of "backstabbing, intrigue, mystery, conspiracy and religious upheaval", as producer Karl Gernert served the play up.

For these youngsters, the old nursery rhyme: "Remember, remember the fifth of November; Gunpowder, treason and plot; I see no reason why gunpowder treason; Should ever be forgot," will never be quite the same again.

Act II Theatre Company's in rehearsals for the play 5/11. Photo by Tim Wilson. 281018-1
Act II Theatre Company's in rehearsals for the play 5/11. Photo by Tim Wilson. 281018-1

Review by Winston Brown


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