"Of The Trials Of London"
by Saul Reichlin for remotegoat on 16/11/16

‘It made me weep to see it’ wrote diarist Samuel Pepys, describing the great fire of London as ‘a bow with God's arrow in it with a shining point’. Another diarist, John Evelyn, wrote ‘there was nothing heard or seen but crying out and lamentation’. The year is 1666, and London is ablaze. 13,500 houses, 87 parish churches, including St Paul's Cathedral, will be destroyed and thousands of lives lost.

In this captivating drama, playwright Kate Glover has brought back the time and place, capturing not only the immensity of the event, but also the sometimes shocking human dramas it produced. Director Kenneth Michaels makes full use of the generous Bridewell Theatre stage, itself a victim of the fire back then. Unusually, the play consists of 22 short scenes, and while this does provide a framework for coverage of a wide number of issues, it does make the structure of the evening somewhat fragmented and stop start. However, (apart from a tendency in some to ‘ face front and play to the gallery’) the highly committed company overcome this with a dedication and relish for the meatiness of their roles and the unfolding story. Miss Glover herself provides a most accomplished performance, as does Harry Saks, excellent in his role as ‘a London citizen’.

The company of 8 talented actors essay a total of 18 characters, a complex director’s juggling act, expertly handled. Some (not enough) evocative music and powerful (if loud) sound effects added to the drama. The sparingly used, but threatening sound of the fire was a leitmotif I found very powerful. Beautifully costumed and lit, and with some lovely artwork by Sharon Lovett Lampi on the backcloth, the company are to be congratulated on this showing. It augurs well for their onward itinerary which includes the ‘fire churches’, surely to be one of the events of the season.

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