Religion has been used throughout the centuries to gain power, claim land, control countries and a host more besides. At its heart lies individual belief. Joanna Carrick has chosen to focus her play on the individual beliefs of Alice Driver of Grundisburgh who was burned at the stake in the market square outside Ipswich Town Hall in November 1558.
Her crime? Daring to believe a slightly different interpretation of Christianity than that of those who ran the country. Catholic Queen Mary had almost 300 people burned at stakes in her attempt to reverse the English Reformation and she died just two weeks after Alice Driver. She was succeeded by her younger half sister Elizabeth I who promptly restored the reformation!
I mention these historical facts because they are key to understanding this play. Essentially a love story, we meet the three characters Alice (Ellie Allison), Alexander (Charlie Drane) and Edward (Ted Newborn) as young children, doing what young children do: laughing, swinging on ropes, teasing each other. Normal everyday children.
As the play progresses, and the children grow into adults, Alice (Isabel Della-Porta), Alexander (Oliver Cudbill) and Edward (Ricky Oakley) can now be found in the hay loft indulging in more adult pursuits – bible reading!
A more grandiose reviewer might, at this point, equate the bible to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Suffice to say the tale goes downhill from here on. I was constantly reminded of that cartoon – the one with warring armies on opposite banks of the river, each shouting (and believing) that theirs was the righteous way, and the other’s not.
The production was excellent, as we have come to expect of Red Rose Chain. The acting faultless – it is amazing how infections Alice’s giggles were after the interval! Using members of Red Rose Chain’s Youth Theatre was an ingenious device on two levels. It allowed us to understand that these martyrs were not in any way radicals, just normal folk. But it also provided young people an opportunity to partake in adult theatre – for which the company is to be commended.
You can take this gently paced play as either a simple love story set in a beautiful part of Suffolk where life is sweet (but with a really bad ending!) or as a deeper commentary on the futility of religion. Go and see for yourself and make your own mind up.