Review: Light Shining In Buckinghamshire, Arcola

“Words come out of my mouth like toads”

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire is one of Caryl Churchill’s earlier plays, taking up residence now in Studio 1 of Dalston’s Arcola Theatre. Set during the English Civil War, it deals with a period of time when there was huge political upheaval, the conflict between the power of the landowning class and the burgeoning ideals around individual freedom came to a head and questions around liberty and real democracy were posed by the different factions in Cromwell’s New Model Army.

The focus in each half is around a debate, in the first half it is the Putney Debates of 1647 when common soldiers argued passionately for genuine democratic reform in opposition to Oliver Cromwell’s policies of protecting the power of the landowners. In the second, it is a group of common people who have found God through or indeed despite their suffering and starvation. Around these focal points is a collage of stories of how brutal life for the population at large is, as they are constantly kept down-at-heel: the poor are whipped, children abandoned to their death, evangelists preaching of the new heaven on earth for men but not women, all rather bleak. Continue reading “Review: Light Shining In Buckinghamshire, Arcola”

Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre

With Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw took the well-known story of Joan of Arc, a young peasant girl eventually sainted, who led the French army to victory against the English during the Hundred Years War and was repaid for her trouble by being declared a witch and burnt at the stake since she believed that she was being guided by the voice of God in her head, and created an all-too-human story filling in the gaps in the history with tales of conflicting institutions, personality clashes and a keen sense of humour of what her life must have been like.

The play is remarkably even-handed in that it presents all sides of the argument and never really comes down on the side of either Joan or her oppressors. There are no goodies and baddies here, just a girl who believes God is speaking to her and the machinery of Church and State who will do anything to ensure their power remains stable: Shaw’s message is that uncontrolled individualism threatens the established order and is rarely tolerated. Continue reading “Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre”