The title of Paul Webb's Four Nights in Knaresborough
contains an almost-pun as it could as easily be four knights
, namely the four who murdered Thomas à Becket after he turned on his patron Henry II. The murder itself is confined to a brief flashback in the dream sequence that opens the play, as the four nights
in question play out over the course of the following year, 1171. Seeing the public reaction to Becket's death, proto-spin doctor Henry is off making public penance and invading Ireland to distract his subjects and court the Church's favour again. Webb takes us instead to Knaresborough Castle in North Yorkshire, home of Morville (Lee Williams - a familiar face on TV for many years, including the ill-fated final series of Teachers
, this is actually his first professional stage role) who along with the other three is essentially imprisoned there, unable to leave as they're the most hated men in England.
This revival keeps the setting firmly in the Middle Ages in terms of costume and design, but this is partly to provide contrast with what the characters say - in their language, tendency to self-analyse and blasé acceptance of two of the knights' homosexuality, the quartet is thoroughly modern. With very little actually known about the men and what they did, this allows Webb to give them distinct personalities through which to explore what their motivation might have been for killing one of the best-loved men of his day. There's the broken Morville, fiercely loyal to the king, the super-aggressive Fitz (a fabulously moustached Alex Hughes,) peacock-like Traci (David Sturzaker) and young hothead Brito (Tom Greaves - and I know I said I'd stop mentioning it but as it's Southwark Playhouse this does constitute Bicep Boy returning to the scene of the crime
, fortunately without the same results.) Morville and Brito both have eyes for housekeeper Catherine (Twinnielee Moore) while Traci has eyes for Brito, and their own grievances also flare up over the year they're stuck in the castle. It's well-performed and a really entertaining evening with some interesting ideas but mostly a lot of, often gruesome, humour and action. But what I found most striking was the visuals which director Seb Billings has created with designer Martin Thomas and lighting designer Howard Hudson: From the opening scene of the murder, in darkness with occasional flashes of light illuminating the blood spurting from Becket's (Tony Boncza) mouth, to Morville collapsing into a breakdown as he has visions of the dead Archbishop, and the bursts of smoke regularly spewing from the giant fireplace that forms the set's centrepiece, there's barely a moment of the play that isn't laid out in a gorgeous tableau.Four Nights in Knaresborough
by Paul Webb is booking until the 13th of August at Southwark Playhouse.