Cromwell's Talking Head by Gareth Calway

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The Reading Room, 23 July 2012
Written and performed by Gareth Calway in ten chapters, this monologue began with a grave-robber inadvertently coming across the head of Oliver Cromwell. In a startling act of reincarnation, Cromwell recounted his autobiography, focusing in particular on his reign as Lord Protector from 1649 to 1658.
Cromwell firmly believed that what he did was for the best; by replacing the monarchy with the Commonwealth, he replaced privilege with a more egalitarian world based on religious principles and a strong army. However it was one of the ironies of history that very few people actually shared his belief: throughout this period Britain experienced violent civil war, where no winners and losers actually emerged, and where each side - the Royalists and the Parliamentarians - seemed dedicated to ritual slaughter.
Cromwell himself was a highly unpopular ruler, even though some historians - notably Carlyle - viewed him as a hero of liberty. He never attained the kind of nobility that King Charles managed on the day of his execution in January 1649, when he mounted the block outside the Banqueting House, calmly awaiting his punishment. Although Cromwell was buried in Westminster Abbey, his corpse was dug up two years later by the Royalists, hung up in chains, and beheaded.
At times Calway's monologue seemed particularly violent in content, portraying a dog-eat-dog world in which only the fittest survived. Although Cromwell did not deserve his fate - some two years after his death - it seemed inevitable that it would happen. The Royalists wanted as violent a revenge as possible for the sufferings they had experienced during the previous decade. Cromwell recounted the events sardonically; despite his best intentions, Britain did not seem to become a better place.
Calway's performance was a triumph of narration and vocal colour. I look forward to listening to further monologues.