5/11 Play – Review

Competition winner Renegade Liberal writes:

5/11 is an entertaining piece of fiction which is persuasive in its message of ‘plus ca change, plus c’’est la meme chose. The passing of four centuries may have seen Jesuits replaced by Al Qaeda, but the motives of the well-heeled would-be martyrs seem to be unchanging. The only noticeable change has been technological; “‘mass destruction”’ required 36 barrels of gunpowder in 1605, but only a single small rucksack in 2005.

Hugh Ross was very convincing as Robert Cecil. Sir Humphrey had nothing on this arch pragmatist, which probably explains why the Cecils have inhabited the corridors of power for so long. Similarly, it comes as no surprise that Alistair McGowan’’s buffoonish James 1st/6th produced a line whose grasp on power was shortlived. If only the attitudes passed away with the bloodline – alas, the L’etat, c’’est Moi” philosophy, which briefly went into an Enlightenment-driven hibernation, now appears to be guiding Tony Blair.

Watching the theological debates of the conspirators as they scrabbled to find divine justification for their planned terror, it was easy to imagine similar discussions occurring among today’s Muslim fanatics. The injunction to put aside worldly inclinations, such as conscience and compassion for the innocent, in pursuit of “God’’s will” struck a particularly contemporary chord.

Although shining a light on the dark side of human nature, and quite heavy going for my non-political friend who accompanied me, the play is lightened by its satirical humour, and contains a few rays of optimism. That the beautiful Authorised Version of the bible could be the consequence of James’ capricious vanity is encouraging. As was, bizarrely, the fact that James had to Authorise the torture of Fawkes: even in the early 17th Century torture was rare in England, having been banned by Maga Carta.

The author makes it clear that the play is fictional, but he does cast Fawkes as a relatively minor player in the plot. In this, at least, he is historically-accurate. However, such accuracy may be over-rated: I suspect that this column, and many others, prefer the popular misconception of Guido as the principal figure.

Chichester Festival Theatre is showing 5/11 until 8 September. Tickets can be bought online, more information here.




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