55 Days, Hampstead Theatre 19 October

****

Mark Gatiss as Charles I

A woman behind me said “We’re in the Republican area, thank God”, and as I stared across the stage at those brazen enough to declare for the Royalist cause–how could anyone do such a thing–I could only agree with her.  With author and director both called Howard I was certainly anticipating a suitably low-class take on things.  And after a start that recalled a less successful Civil War play, the action here proceeded with increasing tension and focus.  I thought that the decision to portray Charles Stuart as a failed comic actor (Mark Gatiss) was entirely appropriate, while Douglas Henshall foxed and charmed his way as Cromwell.

The trial was of course a complete charade and Charles Stuart was indeed quite right to point out that the court was not a court and anyway there was no law to try a King under.  The idea that Cromwell was fighting for a constitutional monarchy was presented convincingly, while the obligatory scene between him and Charles Stuart went off well, weather and bitter humour and all.  I was prepared to shed patriotic tears at the thought of King Charles and Oliver Cromwell both being brave men doing what they honestly thought was best for the country when the act of signing the death warrant brought about a fit of giggles in the regicides…entirely scripted, I should say…

So very well done and well worth seeing!  This was a preview, but I think I’m allowed to express opinions as long as they’re positive.

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