Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis
BR Rating ****
Further performances: 13/14/15 July
By John Pownall

First or second night shows can be hard to do and hard to watch, but so confident have the Marine Players become after last year’s success with The Tempest adaptation, that there were no fluffed lines, no false notes, and no missed cues. Not bad for amateurs, or indeed for many professionals.

Historically accurate, this depiction of the West Country rebellion led by the Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate Protestant son of Charles II whose line ended and so was succeeded by the Catholic Duke of York (James II), provides an entertaining and engaging history lesson.

The complex and vitally significant 17th century rather gets overshadowed by the twin peaks of the Tudors and the Victorians. The history of England is not all about Spitfires, the Armada, or the growth of Empire, it is also about revolts, betrayals and progressive changes to our political system sometimes, as here, abetted by friends and cousins from continental Europe.

The Marine Players, led brilliantly by Anne King as the older Alice, remind us that many of our rights and liberties have been hard won.

There’s a lot to take in in a short period of time, and a lot to deliver. This makes for some hard work from the actors and the director to keep the action flowing, and the focus clear. The production does all it can to provide the back story, and to invite the audience to feel its contemporary resonances. Indeed, the biggest murmur of recognition came when Jeremy Corbyn’s familiar face appeared on the backcloth used for projected images of the recreated rebellion itself, shot through Lyme’s familiar streets, along with interspersed footage from more recent confrontations. This sort of worked, though some of the footage shots were so brief as to be easily missed, and it is perhaps a little too far-fetched to make a linkage between Labour’s 2017 election manifesto slogan, and the words of the rebels. That said, the production plays into a zeitgeist which is more political perhaps than it has ever been, and so in this sense, those parallels are justified.

Musically enriched by flute and guitar (beautifully played), with some clever use of light and effects, the show is bound to capture the imagination of audiences. The performances are all commendable, with some real strengths on show. Declan Duffy is, as ever, commanding, and Georgia Robson is pitch-perfect as the young Alice, dressed as a boy in the rebel army. This entertaining (if brief) sub-plot was reminiscent of Twelfth Night; and Nick Ivins as Monmouth had more than a hint of Count Orsino about him at times in his gradual recognition of Alice’s hidden identity.

The production was well-balanced, and cleverly- paced to ensure that what could have been a stodgy dollop of history on a sultry July night was extremely lively and fun, while not in any way diminishing the seriousness of the subject matter. All in all, another fine achievement from the pen of Andrew Rattenbury, and the direction of Clemmie Reynolds.