The Penny Dreadfuls Present Guy Fawkes

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BBC Radio 4, 5 November 2009
This comic retelling of the Gunpowder Plot focused on religious differences which inspired the scheme in the first place. Early Protestant England resembled a fascist state dominated by aristocrats like Sir William (Humphrey Kerr) who thought nothing of disembowelling a few Catholics before breakfast. Religious toleration was unheard of: those opposing Protestantism had either to shut up or risk severe reprisal. Fawkes and his cohorts took the only possible option; by blowing up the Houses of Parliament they wanted to initiate a regime change.
Needless to say the plot failed in a very English kind of way - despite their basic convictions, the conspirators seldom agreed on strategic matters. They were easy prey for the security forces, who took pleasure in meting out the most sadistic punishments allowable under the law.
However the play's serious point was often undercut by a relentless jokiness redolent of the English public school. Nothing should be taken seriously; to do so might lead people to think that the participants embraced a strong political view. It is far better to take refuge in dreadful puns or forced innuendoes. The play resembled an end-of-term romp whose participants (the comic group the Penny Dreadful, including Kerr, Thom Trick and Miles Jupp) hoped to escape censure by trying to make people laugh. For this listener at least, this approach soon palled, and I was left wishing that the end would coom as soon as possible. The director of this nonsense was Julia McKenzie.