Put Out the Lights

reviewed at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich on 10 May

How far are you prepared to go for your beliefs? It’s as pertinent a question for the 21st century as it was for the early modern period and (then as Now) has an international dimension.

Joanna Carrick’s new history play, the second of a trilogy, centres on three people living just north of Ipswich and begins when Thomas Cromwell was Henry VIII’s Secretary of State and forwarding the dismantling of shrines and religious houses.

We first meet Alice, Alexander and Edward as children. She’s a farmer’s daughter, Edward Driver is a farmer’s son in Grundisburgh and Alexander Gooch is apprenticed to a Woodbridge weaver. All three are literate to some degree and Alexander has access to the Bible in English and to Protestant tracts.

Edward is more inclined to the old Catholic ways; his mother had a particular devotion to the shrine of Our Lady of Grace on Ipswich’s Lady Lane which has just been demolished. We encounter them again as young adults.

Time has deprived Alice of both father and mother and she is struggling to make the family farm survive by herself. Alexander has become more of a religious fanatic as he crosses regularly to Flanders, bringing back a much more fundamental sense of faith.

Marriage to Edward eases one of Alice’s problems. But her increasing attraction to Alexander’s faith, perhaps subconsciously fuelled by a latent attraction, draws her away from Edward’s much more conformist stance.

The young Alice, Alexander and Edward are very well played by Red Rose Chain’s youth theatre – Ellie Allison, Charlie Drake and Ted Newborn. Their adult incarnations are led by Isabel Della-Porta.

She lays bare for us the spiritual journey of a woman prepared to burn rather than submit to Mary I’s attempt to wrest the country back to rigorous Catholicism. Oliver Cudbill radiates Alexander’s fervour with all its charisma and sense of absolute righteousness.

Ricky Oakley’s Edward is a finely detailed study of a man who can understand that reform is needed but would so much prefer to live his life as is most traditional and comfortable. The barn set suggests this sense of timelessness.

The Ipswich Martyrs went to the stake with Protestant prayers; Edward, heartbroken at his wife’s faith, tries to exorcise it with the Ave Maria.

Four and a half-star rating.

Put Out the Lights runs at the Red Rose Chain’s Avenue Theatre, Ipswich until 27 May. There are matinée performances on 12, 13, 19, 20, 26 and 27 May.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2018

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