"Worst career move in history?"
by David Stockton on 15/04/08

In 1170, Henry the Second in a bout of frustration brought on by Thomas Becket's refusal to compromise on the Church's authority supposedly uttered the fateful words "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"

These simple words inflamed four loyal knights who took it on themselves to confront the rebellious Archbishop at Canterbury. However, it went spectacularly wrong resulting in the 'butchering of Beckett in the very gaze of God'.

Therefore, having possibly made the "worst career move in history" the four flee to Knaresborough Castle where they lay low for a year avoiding the wrath of the Church and a superstitious peasantry.

Paul Webb explores their dilemma in Four Nights in Knaresborough through a purely speculative narrative in an attempt to understand the motivation and pain of this disparate quartet of Traci, Brito, Morville and Fitz.

Despite the lofty intentions of its author, it somewhat fails on first viewing. Is it historical drama worthy of Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral or a historical crude romp immortalized by the BBC's Blackadder series?

The constant scatological crudity of the first act becomes tiring, stealing by stealth the serious nature of the crime. Despite these difficulties, Act Two finds the knights on top form as they deal with their demons. Any earlier misgivings soon evaporate as the serious drama dominates the intimate Progress stage.

The set and lighting worked to the play's advantage providing a metaphor for these austere machinations in an inhospitable twelfth century Yorkshire. The only warmth comes from Esther Walters' industrious housekeeper Catherine, a lifeline to the bitter world beyond the walls.

Against this barren sterile environment, Steve Sumner's broken Morville descends into a comatose depression fuelled and disgusted by exile and excommunication. In contrast, philosophical Traci (Steve Webb) keeps a physical rein on both himself and his volatile protege Brito (Lee Neville) while still maintaining an eye on the menacing presence of Chris Bertrand's predatory Fitz, the bearish villain of the piece.

As a tight group grappling with the protagonists' broken lives and hearts, the actors overcome the failings of Webb's script with its 'mockney' overtones by delivering a tense drama, tempered by humour that gripped the audience to the very end.

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