Bedfringe 2021 Interview: The Munch Mission!

“I love Fringe festivals. They are the theatre equivalent of a smorgasbord.”

WHO: Daul Lawless: Actor/Deviser/Producer/Tour Booker/Production Manager

WHAT: “A world famous artwork has gone missing from Oslo National Museum. Work with Agents Kahlo and Dali of the Company of International Artists to solve a fiendishly sneaky art heist. Help them to chase leads, decipher clues and interrogate suspects to retrieve the missing artwork in this globe-trotting adventure. ”

WHERE: Quarry Theatre

WHEN: 24 July 2022 @ 14:00 (60mins)

MORE: Click Here!


Is this your first time to Bedfringe?

Yes it is.

We were recommended to apply by Marina O’Shea who runs Yet To Be. She spoke highly of James and the Bedfringe team. Yet To Be also happen to be included in the Bedfringe line-up this year with their show ‘The Geneva Convention of Human F**cks’ which we recommend (although their show is distinctly not suited to a family audience).

I love Fringe festivals. They are the theatre equivalent of a smorgasbord. I love attending Fringe festivals as a punter. There’s such a buzz and there’s always something for everyone. From an artist’s perspective there’s this collective solidarity between theatre makers. We all know how hard it is to be in this profession. The passion, dedication and output of contemporaries is always inspiring given the hurdles we have to overcome to do what we do.

What are the big things you’ve learned since 2021 and have you absorbed any of the lessons yet?

Brave Bold Drama has been focused on our multi-form project Company of International Artists, which is comprised of a postal subscription service of the same name, two playable family theatre shows, including ‘The Munch Mission’, and in-person workshops which are a fine blend of art-history, craft and songwriting.

We have also been working on a commission from Bristol Museum and Art Gallery to design and create videos for families attending BMAG. The videos respond to the 6 themes of Grayson’s Art Club (family, nature, food, dreams, work, and travel) which is a collection of artwork curated by Grayson which is currently being exhibited there until September. These videos, however, respond to pieces in their permanent exhibition so this work will have legacy despite tying directly into the temporary collection by Grayson Perry.

We also design and facilitate community engagement projects in Hartcliffe and Withywood, an area of multiple deprivation in South Bristol. This work includes a Creative Writing Group for adults, a youth theatre for teenagers and once-monthly fundays at a local community centre through which we host performances and creative workshops for families based in the area.

Tell us about your show.

‘The Munch Mission’ is a playable art-heist adventure theatre show for families featuring quirky, affable Agents Dali & Kahlo from the Company of International Artists. Audience members are ‘in-role’ as newly recruited agents to this top secret global agency which solves artistic mysteries. The audience accompany Dali & Kahlo in their mission to retrieve world-famous artwork stolen from Oslo National Museum, visiting Japan, the Netherlands and England along the way.

As a playable theatre show, at different points throughout the show the audience are asked to vote for different narrative outcomes. This impacts on which characters Dali & Kahlo interview and which countries they visit.

What should your audience see at Bedfringe after they’ve seen your show?

We are big fans of Olaf Falafel. I contacted him on Twitter recently to let him know we are also performing at Bedfringe. He has yet to reply, but if you’re reading this Olaf – we’d love for you to attend our show. We think you will really appreciate it.


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Bedfringe 2022 Interview: Dossers, Drabs, Muck-worms and Mumpers

“Having spent years in the Middle Ages, I’ve leapt forward to eighteenth-century London.”

WHO: Mark Steinhardt / writer and performer

WHAT: “Coot looks down on everyone and drips irritation and misery upon all who come within his reach. Especially poor pathetic Piper. Such a pleasure to ruin his day!”

WHERE: Quarry Theatre

WHEN: 22-23 July 2022 TIMES VARY (60mins)

MORE: Click Here!


Is this your first time to Bedfringe?

No! This is my 9th show in 11 years. Bedfringe puts a shape on my life! Every Christmas I start writing a new story for July. Bedfringe gave me my first opportunity and I’m eternally grateful. Now I have a loyal audience, so I’m able to pay back Bedfringe with sell-out shows.

What are the big things you’ve learned since 2021 and have you absorbed any of the lessons yet?

I’m a storyteller. What have I learned along the way? Don’t repeat yourself. A musician can play his hits – folk like the familiarity – but a teller of tales has to have something new every time. This year’s story won’t sound like anything I’ve done before.

Tell us about your show.

Having spent years in the Middle Ages, I’ve leapt forward to eighteenth-century London. For me, that’s…. modernity. I mean, there are street lights in my story! Oh, and there are streets with kerbs and things to put them in.

It’s a warm-hearted tale, dangerously close to sentimental. There’s spite, greed, dishonesty and pointless hope, but by the end, there is redemption and the possibility of something better. I really couldn’t do anything grim this year – for my own sake as much as the audience’s.

What should your audience see at Bedfringe after they’ve seen your show?

I don’t have any friends at Bedfringe – solo performers don’t need friends – so these plugs are unsolicited, Alfie Moore, the ex-cop, is certain to be good. Olaf Falafel will be daft and funny, and the Theatre of Widdershins will be wonderful for young families. For the rest, just take a chance. That’s the point of fringe festivals.


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Bedfringe 2022 Interview: Life Under The Sun

“Recent events have encouraged me to read a lot into geopolitics and financial systems, why things are the way the way they are.”

WHO: Stephen Bathurst

ROLE IN THE PRODUCTION: Everything…

WHAT: “Life Under The Sun is a one man show based on the book of Ecclesiastes. It is a black comedy with a unique mix of ancient verse offset against dark pantomime and the dry wit of stand-up. Features underpants, pompous man-servants, self-deprecating witticisms, an existential crisis and one giant hangover…”

WHERE: Quarry Theatre

WHEN: 23 July 2022 @ 16:30 (40mins +20 min Q&A)

MORE: Click Here!


Is this your first time to Bedfringe?

I came here back in 2016 with a two-man show based on the story of Job. Two vivid memories of said show are:

1) Wearing skinny jeans so tight I could barely move in them.

2) Having a bin full of rotting banana and orange peel dumped over my head.

I was the director so only have myself to blame for this… It was a very receptive audience. We had a good Q&A afterwards.

What are the big things you’ve learned since 2021 and have you absorbed any of the lessons yet?

There’s been much travel. I am British but live in Finland, recently went to visit an old friend in France and spent a good chunk of winter in Africa.

Recent events have encouraged me to read a lot into geopolitics and financial systems, why things are the way they are.

Tell us about your show.

We all look up at the stars and ponder the big questions of life, of purpose and belonging This is true of every human, no matter the race or culture. I don’t like being preached at. I like questions and opinions and doubt. I like laughing at the nonsense of life and thrashing out the meaning of things over a pint in the pub.

‘Life Under The Sun’. A show for those seeking, even if they don’t know what…

What should your audience see at Bedfringe after they’ve seen your show?

As a 90s Boy myself, Phil Green’s show of the same name looks a good shout.


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Bedfringe 2022 Interview: Nightmare Magic

“Think ‘Woman in Black’ (the play, not the one with Harry Potter) except with magic.”

WHO: David Alnwick: Writer & Performer

WHAT: “After a hit preview run at Edinburgh Festival 2021, writer and magician David Alnwick brings the new edition of ‘Nightmare Magic’ back to Bedford Fringe!”

WHERE: Quarry Theatre

WHEN: 30 July 2021 @ 18:00 (60mins)

MORE: Click Here!


Is this your first time to Bedfringe?

Third time. I didn’t expect they’d have me back, y’know, after the… Well, let’s just say sawing people in half takes practice.

What are the big things you’ve learned since 2021 and have you absorbed any of the lessons yet?

I spent a lot of time getting good at making pizza. People might question the relevance of pointing this out, what with me being a writer, an actor, and a magician doing a one-man horror show but I’m telling you, knowing I can make a great pizza gives me the confidence to keep going.

Tell us about your show.

Think ‘Woman in Black’ (the play, not the one with Harry Potter) except with magic. It’s a one-person show where I demonstrate a collection of haunted items in an attempt to contact the dead. Man, that sounds cool, right? Like, I’d want to see that show.

What should your audience see at Bedfringe after they’ve seen your show?

Probably something happy. Check out Marcel Lucont.


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“Boots planted firm, shield shoulder strong, weapon hand unflinching … and prayers already said.” – Author Michael Livingston talks about ‘Never Greater Slaughter: Brunanburh and the Birth of England’

“Not only does Old English Brunanburh become Modern English Bromborough, the landscape, social, and political situations of the Wirral are a perfect match for everything we know about the battle.”

WHAT: Late in AD 937, four armies met in a place called Brunanburh. On one side stood the shield-wall of the expanding kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons. On the other side stood a remarkable alliance of rival kings – at least two from across the sea – who’d come together to destroy them once and for all. The stakes were no less than the survival of the dream that would become England. The armies were massive. The violence, when it began, was enough to shock a violent age. Brunanburh may not today have the fame of Hastings, Crécy or Agincourt, but those later battles, fought for England, would not exist were it not for the blood spilled this day. Generations later it was still called, quite simply, the ‘great battle’. But for centuries, its location has been lost.

Today, an extraordinary effort, uniting enthusiasts, historians, archaeologists, linguists, and other researchers – amateurs and professionals, experienced and inexperienced alike – may well have found the site of the long-lost battle of Brunanburh, over a thousand years after its bloodied fields witnessed history. This groundbreaking new book tells the story of this remarkable discovery and delves into why and how the battle happened. Most importantly, though, it is about the men who fought and died at Brunanburh, and how much this forgotten struggle can tell us about who we are and how we relate to our past.”

WHO: “Michael Livingston is a two-time winner of the Distinguished Book Prize from the International Society for Military History (2017, 2020), an author of best-selling fiction, an award-winning full professor at The Citadel, and a frequent public lecturer, and occasionally even a person on TV. At present, he serves as the Secretary-General for the United States Commission on Military History and sits on the Board of the South Carolina Academy of Authors.”

MORE? Here!


Why Brunanburh?

In 937, a massive alliance of Scots, Vikings, and Britons came together to try to eradicate England at a place called Brunanburh. From the first time I heard about the battle as a student, I found it fascinating. It sits at this enormously tantalizing crossroads of being an event of enormous importance in the history of the British Isles … yet it’s also an event about which very little is known. I’ve always liked puzzles, and as historical events go, this is a terrific one!

Other than the location, what are the things we don’t know about the battle and its context that you wish we did?

The absolute number one thing we’re missing, without question, is how the alliance came together. All three of the kings who banded together – Constantine of the Scots, Anlaf of the Dublin Vikings, and Owain of the Strathclyde Britons – had reason to hate each other, and yet they set these differences aside to try to take on King Athelstan of the English. The negotiations must have been fascinating, but we don’t know what they were. We don’t even know for sure whose idea it was at the start!

What’s your elevator pitch for Brunanburh’s having taken place on the Wirral?

Not only does Old English Brunanburh become Modern English Bromborough, the landscape, social, and political situations of the Wirral are a perfect match for everything we know about the battle.

How did Brunanburh live in the memory of ordinary folk in the immediate generations after the battle?

They called it simply the “Great Battle,” which speaks volumes about how horrific it must have been. As I say in the book, the violence shocked a violent age. How did they remember it over time? Well, poetry has long been a vital way of preserving the past, and Brunanburh was certainly no exception to this. The most famous “artifact” of the battle today is a powerful poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – the sole information that it records for the year 937. Likely there were many such things told in the years after the bloodshed, and we’re fortunate that this one survived.

If you could possess one item mentioned in your narrative, what would it be and why?

According to one chronicler, a Frankish duke sent King Athelstan a long list of treasures, including “the sword of Constantine the Great, inscribed with the ancient owner’s name in golden letters, with one of the iron spikes used to crucify our Lord affixed to the scabbard with golden fastenings.” I feel like that would be a nice addition to the office, right?

If it was possible for you to own a from life photograph portrait of any one of the characters chronicled in the story, who would you want to see and what would you be looking for?

I’d want to see Athelstan, immediately after the battle. Thousands had fought and died for him. How much did the bloodshed impact him? How much did the trauma haunt him? He no doubt wore a public face, but I’d want to see the look in his eyes when he thought no one was watching.

What’s the best way to stand in a shield wall and live to tell the tale?

Boots planted firm, shield shoulder strong, weapon hand unflinching … and prayers already said. It was unbelievably brutal combat.

Bernard Cornwell wrote the preface to the book. What’s the best thing about his “Last Kingdom” series of novels and are there any parts you aren’t so keen on?

I love Cornwell’s novels – and not just the Last Kingdom ones! Wouldn’t change a thing about them, honestly. What I love best about them is the ways in which he manages to respect the hard work of historians while also pulling off that a bit. I mean, what are the odds that his Uhtred of Bebbanburg, being born in the 850s, would still be effectively swinging a sword at Brunanburh in 937? Not high, but damn if it doesn’t make for an awesome story!

You’ve got one year living as an observer in the 930s. What’s on your bucket list of sights to see?

Can I witness Brunanburh – and all the arrangements that made it happen – without participating in it? I’d do that if I could, just to satisfy my final curiosities. And what downtime I had I’d spend riding the roads from Hastings to Winchester to London and then up to York. Figure I’d knock out some other questions along the way!

What are you currently working on?

In June I’ve got another historical investigation in the same vein of Never Greater Slaughter coming out: Crécy: Battle of Five Kings. I’m really excited for people to get their hands on it. Right now I’m working on its sequel, which is an investigation and reconstruction of the Battle of Agincourt.

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‘The Bobby Kennedy Experience’ (Town and Gown, 7-8 April)

“…the biggest, boldest, and most successful choice – to revel unashamedly in the chaos and frantic pace of RFK’s final days.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars (Nae Bad)

The chroniclers of other people’s lives set out on their journeys to answer one question – who was so and so? Who was Robert F Kennedy, for example? There are several plausible answers. Politician. Younger brother. Junior partner. Unlikely folk hero. Trailblazer. True believer. Martyr.

In ‘The Bobby Kennedy Experience’ Russell Lucas (directed by Sarah-Louise Young) brings together (some of) these threads which made up the life of the most famous man not to be elected US President. The threads of Robert Kennedy’s life were violently cut short by an assassin in June 1968, a low watermark in that decade of high profile murder.

We enter to find the disorderly detritus of a campaign stop. The floor is scattered with red, white, and blue balloons. Quotations about the man himself -from luminaries including Bono, Carlin, and Obama – are projected onto the back wall. It’s been nine years since Russell Lucas played RFK in the National Geographic documentary, ‘JFK: Seven Days That Made a President.’ The look is there. The stump speaker in shirtsleeves. The slight figure struggling to fill big shoes. The occasional glimpse of a perfectly tailored US Naval Reservist echoing the pomp and circumstance which immediately followed the President’s death in Dallas.

This is still a very raw production, or rather preview of the production possibly to come. The big and little choices are still stark and unrefined. The slips into freeform dancing, for instance, do not work. RFK was in the sixties but he was arguably not of the sixties as remembered by the people who, ip so facto, could not have been there. It detracts from the biggest, boldest, and most successful choice – to revel unashamedly in the chaos and frantic pace of RFK’s final days. To see the good the bad and the ugly from inside the subject’s head as a cacophony of noise and motion.

Sometimes the presentation meanders, other times it skips. It skips over RFK the hater of LBJ, over Robert Francis Kennedy the devout Roman Catholic, past Bobby Kennedy the one-time thorn in Jimmy Hoffa’s side. Lucas, as a paid-up Kennedy nerd, needs to slaughter a few more sacred cows and beef up the content to match his insight and commentary.

In these pages, when interviewing authors of biographies, I often ask “when” a hero or villain was to be found in their lifespan. When did the individual most resemble our lasting impression of them? No person lives entirely static. We experience life as a series of transitions from being one thing to being another. ‘The Bobby Kennedy Experience’ breaks the mould of one-person shows to be more Plutarchian than Suetonian. It is as much an inquiry into the internal mind as it is a portrait of the external man.

Get your coats on. Come for the honest homage to a great man. Stay for the drama. Come away with a sense of the possibilities.


Reviewer: Dan Lentell

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“I think Napoleon planned his offensive against the Papacy like a military campaign. Manoeuvring, invasion, battle, victory, and capitulation were the set pattern of his triumphs.” – Author Ambrogio A. Caiani talks about ‘To Kidnap a Pope’

“I’d love to ask Pius VII what kept him going during his imprisonment/exile? It would be fascinating to know if his faith that he would be delivered from and survive his incarceration ever wavered.”

WHAT: The story of The Story, of Christianity as it appears in the historical record, is a constant tussle between those empowered solely by their spiritual faith and those holding supreme temporal power. For the Catholic Church, the established church of Western Europe, the multidimensional Venn diagram of overlapping spiritual and temporal interests has been a fractal labyrinth through which very few have successfully navigated. There is scarcely a polity – not an Earldom, Dukedom, Kingdom, or Empire – in which Church and state have ever coexisted in perfect balance without the unfolding, all consuming drama of a Beckett or a Borgia, a Henry or an Honorius. Since the fall of Rome, the history of Europe has always been, in one sense or another, the history of Church and state.

Amid the aftershocks of the political and intellectual earthquake known to us as the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) and Pope Pius VII (1742 -1823) attempted to reconcile the latter’s old church with the former’s new state. The early signs were promising. Together in 1801 they formalized an agreement, but relations between them rapidly deteriorated. In 1809, to the horror of the faithful across the continent, Napoleon ordered the Pope’s arrest. Pius’ imprisonment, which would vary in severity and isolation, lasted until Napoleon’s fall in 1814.

In his pioneering account of the tempestuous relationship between the Emperor and his most unyielding opponent Ambrogio Caiani draws on original findings in the Vatican and other European archives. He uncovers the nature of Catholic resistance to Napoleon’s aggression; charts Napoleon’s approach to Papal power; and reveals how the Emperor attempted to subjugate the church to his particular vision of modernity.

“In gripping, vivid prose, Caiani brings to life the struggle for power that would shape modern Europe. It all makes for a historical read which is both original and enjoyable.” – Antonia Fraser, author of ‘Marie Antoinette’.

WHO: Ambrogio A. Caiani is senior lecturer in modern European history at the University of Kent. He is the author of ‘Louis XVI and the French Revolution 1789-1792‘.

MORE? Here!


Why ‘To Kidnap a Pope’?

Well, the title is meant to provide the reader with the basic storyline of the book: in 1809 Napoleon ordered that Pius VII be removed from Rome against his will. He would remain the French Emperor’s prisoner for nearly five years. I have always been fascinated by the politics of religion. The more I researched this topic in the Vatican Archives, and National Archives in Paris, the more I became convinced that its legacy cast a long shadow over the Catholic Church. Indeed, the age of revolutions catalysed the decline in church and state relations that had its roots in the long eighteenth century. The experience of persecution under the French Revolution and Napoleon ensured that the Papacy would view modern states with unconcealed distrust.

Biographers are often asked if they came to like and / or respect their subjects. How do you feel about these two personalities now compared to when you started out? Would you want to share a small and remote holiday cottage with either for an indeterminate period?

Ultimately, I learned to respect both my protagonists as men of principle. Regrettably for them their most deeply held convictions set them on a collision course that was to have disastrous consequences for Europe and the Church. If I had to spend a wet weekend with them…. that’s easy …. Napoleon would definitely be better company than the taciturn and contemplative, former monk, Barnaba Chiaramonti, who was elected Pope in March 1800. I imagine that it would have been tricky to pry even the smallest of conversations out of Pius. He was a deeply religious man, and I am not sure he was that keen on human company. His companions tended to be theologians and confessors. He only really spoke freely to a tiny circle of friends and family.

Whereas Napoleon adored conversation and, when he was not in one of his dark moods, he was, apparently, very good company and a scintillating conversationalist (you just have to read the memorial de Sainte-Hélène to realise that this was the case). Having said this, I suspect that a hyperactive guest, who barely slept four hours a night, like the French Emperor would have tried the endurance skills and energy levels of even the most consummate host. Despite this snag, I think I would be willing to risk it.

How does Napoleon’s struggle with the Papacy of Pius VII stack up against his more famous military campaigns in terms of planning, execution, and adaption to shifting circumstances? Did he have a particular idea of what ultimate victory might look like?

That’s a great question, I think Napoleon planned his offensive against the Papacy like a military campaign. Manoeuvring, invasion, battle, victory, and capitulation were the set pattern of his triumphs. He, probably, expected that he could follow a similar grand design, and ultimately subordinate the Catholic Church to his will. Yet, like in Spain and Calabria, he met a determined group of ecclesiastical resisters, especially the Pope, who simply refused to concede defeat and yield. Simply put, Chiaramonti, unlike a Habsburg or Hohenzollern sovereign, was unresponsive to bullying and military intimidation. Pius’ weapons and provisions were spiritual. He organised a mass campaign of passive resistance that made French rule in the papal states next to impossible. Such tactics prove much more effective in resisting Napoleon than brute force.

Neither Napoleon or Pius were especially modern political thinkers. Neither believed that political legitimacy rests exclusively on the consent of the governed. Keynes described Newton as the last magician rather than the first scientist. Did you ever find yourself wondering if you were chronicling a late medieval struggle rather than an early modern chapter of European history?

Well you say that … but I do wonder if anything, at the end of the day, is really that modern. Napoleon often drew parallels between himself and the medieval investitures crisis of the eleventh century. For example, the struggle that pitted Gregory VII against the Emperor Henry IV, or that which saw Philip IV, possibly, murder Boniface VIII bear remarkable analogies to the events of my book. Yet, by the same logic, the investiture crisis that set Communist China against the Holy See, in the early twenty first century, bears some, loose, though striking parallels to the Napoleonic Empire’s relationship with the Catholic Church. Governments, whether ancient or modern, have and will continue to put pressure on the Church to yield to the power of the state. A harmonious relationship between church and state remains an elusive objective even to this day.

What lessons from this period could the Papacy have absorbed and applied when it came to dealing with 20th century dictators such as Mussolini and Hitler?

Let me start by saying that in general concordats have a good track record in the long history of the Catholic Church. When both contracting parties have upheld the bargain, then, these treaties often created harmonious periods in church and state relations. This was particularly the case in nineteenth century Latin America. Such agreements cemented the Church’s position, rather than undermining it, in South America. A major problem emerges when one party is ‘not playing by the rules.’ The soft power of the church unsupported by hard power of the state could only go so far. The church negotiated these agreements in good faith, but it did not possess the means to force secular states to adhere to the terms of the concordats it signed. The dictators of the twentieth century proved unscrupulous and manipulative in their selective reading of the concordats they had ratified. Like Napoleon, they showed little respect for the Church’s prerogatives and position.

Unlike the French Emperor, they did not kidnap a Pope and exile him (although apparently at one point Hitler did consider kidnapping Pius XII according to one author). Ultimately, there is no easy lesson for the Papacy to draw from the Napoleonic period. Perhaps focusing on its pastoral mission, and avoiding politics where possible, could only be to the church’s advantage.

You express an admiration for Marie Louise, Napoleon’s second wife and the mother of his son. Why has she been so overlooked? Why does she deserve a greater share of the limelight?

I think we tend to be dismissive of arranged marriages in our society as they lack the romance and passion of courtship. In consequence, I guess, the public dismisses the marriage of Napoleon to Marie Louise as mere politics. This eclipses the fact that Marie Louise and Napoleon formed a notable political partnership. Unlike Josephine, she served as regent of France in 1813-1814 while the Emperor was on campaign. This was certainly a token of the trust and esteem Napoleon placed on her. Indeed, as Michael Broers has stated, she attended the council of state and was given a good education. After Napoleon’s fall, she became Duchess of Parma where she is remembered as an enlightened ruler. Under her beneficent guidance, Parma achieved some of the highest literacy rates in Italy, and she was a renowned patron of the arts, especially Italian opera. It has even been suggested that the quality controls and production standards for Parma ham were inspired by her. I also quite like that Napoleon was only husband number one (out of three), so she clearly was a strong woman who put her stamp on an age ruled by men. I do wish somebody would write a political biography of this formidable princess.

If you could directly ask one question of each of your protagonists what would you ask them and what answers would you expect?

I’d love to ask Pius VII what kept him going during his imprisonment/exile? It would be fascinating to know if his faith that he would be delivered from and survive his incarceration ever wavered. I suspect I would not be likely to get an honest answer. Once freed, the Pope claimed his emancipation was a clear manifestation of divine providence. We have no real source with which access to Pius VII’s inner most thoughts which is frustrating for a historian.

To Napoleon I would ask why he wavered (which was out of character) on what to do with his prisoner? Why he wrote to Fouche, his minister of police, claiming that taking the Pope into custody had never been his intention (a manifest lie)? Perhaps I would also ask if deep down he had some lingering belief in the Catholic God… I suspect we’ll never know.

If you could possess one artefact mentioned in your narrative, what would it be and why?

Oh dear, I am not very good when it comes to the ‘material turn’ in history or the current obsession some historians have with knick-knacks. But I would love to possess some of the notes and fragments of paper that Pius smuggled out of Savona, in the seams of his cassock, to communicate with the outside world. It would be fun to spend hours trying to decipher and reassemble his messages to loyal Catholics across Europe.

Was Pius VII an effective Pope? Does he have any wider claim to fame other than having reigned and suffered in interesting times?

Oh, definitely! He was, to an extent, the architect of the Catholic revival of the nineteenth century. The re-establishment of the Jesuit order in 1814, the rediscovery of baroque/popular piety and the drive towards Marianism, can all be attributed to his post-Napoleonic reign. He was determined to not only ensure the church survived the Napoleonic episode, but prospered after one of its darkest hours. He showed an iron determination that the Papacy should retain its central Italian principality. This turned out to be a lost cause and left something of a burdensome legacy. He created a church that was spiritually vibrant. Indeed, numbers of vocations and worshippers increased in rural Europe in the decades following his pontificate. Yet, at the same time, he left much unfinished business with the modern secular state. He would not be the last Pope forced to leave Rome and lose his principality.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on a political history of Global Catholicism during the age of revolutions 1700-1903. It is a great challenge but must say I am loving every minute of it!

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‘Delivered’ (Town and Gown, 15-17 November)

“Melia’s choices are excellent, she is an Alice through whom we experience this strange and skewed reality.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars (Nae Bad)

Tabitha has received a liver transplant. She writes to thank her donor family, but her letters go unanswered. So she takes matters into her own hands, creating an algorithm that will allow her to independently track down the family who saved her life. Will Tim return the letters to sender, or is he ready to be delivered?

We enter to find the audience divided, like a chocolate bourbon, with the filling in the middle also divided between the realm of Tabitha on one side and that of Tim on the other. This is an ultra Fringy set, one that could quickly be taken down under the gaze of the most time-conscious festival venue manager. It speaks to the future ambitions the writer has for this most ambitious script. First workshopped at the Arcadia theatre all those eons ago in 2019, ‘Delivered’ is the debut play from the Town and Gown’s own Lisa MacGregor, inspired by her own family’s liver transplant journey.

As Tabitha, Jessica Melia breathes life into a role that provides numerous potential avenues, a rabbit warren of persona, personality, passion, and pain. Melia’s choices are excellent, she is an Alice through whom we experience this strange and skewed reality. Together with Adam Boyle (as Tim) MacGregor’s material is stretched out but not frayed or torn. The standing ovation and the tears of the audience speak to MacGregor’s skill as an authentic storyteller who really does make us laugh and cry.

This production is a young wine which could (and should) mature into a premier vintage in the right conditions. Whereas Melia’s performance as Tabitha is a skillfully placed shotgun to the heart, Boyle needs to improve his more shadowy sharpshooting. We know what Tabitha is thinking and feeling. Tim is a darker horse, a grieving widower as well as a young father with the parent’s job to do alone. Last night, Boyle seemed hesitant to fully illuminate the emotional rollercoaster his character is on. He hit all the right notes, but not as hard as he might have. Hopefully this will change as the number of live performances under his belt sharpen Boyle’s focus.

Get your coats on and go see this debut play from an author in the early days of a long and illustrious career. Come for a script that is deeply personal and darkly funny. Stay for two performances which are sharp and which will (hopefully) get sharper as the nights roll on.


Reviewer: Dan Lentell

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‘Bonny and Clyde’ (Town and Gown, 3-6 November)

“Edge does authenticity like Sir Francis Chichester did knots. He’s intricate, solid, reliable – as perfect a pairing with Tapako-Brown as when gin met tonic.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars (Nae Bad)

Go big or go home. Karl Steele’s gone big. Two tons big. Two tons of building sand delivered to central Cambridge and then wheelbarrowed, personalmente di persona, by The Town and Gown’s in-house director up, up, and up to the black box in which he has framed Adam Peck’s #notthemusical portraits of Bonnie Elizabeth Parker (b. 1 October, 1910 – d. 23 May, 1934) and Clyde Chestnut Barrow (b. 24 March, 1909 – d. 23 May, 1934).

Bonnie and Clyde are so famous that you know who they are even if you know nothing about them. You won’t have learned very much more as you exit this show. Peck’s script is thinner than what they fed to Oliver Twist while he was still at the orphanage. Least said soonest mended. So in brief, Bonnie and her beau are (presumably) in their hideout, (presumably) recovering from a recentish gun battle, (definitely) a bit nuts, (definitely) squabbling like only people in love can.

We enter to find Steele’s sand as the stage on which the drama will play out. It brings a depth and physicality to the piece that must be seen to be believed. Actors Sharni Tapako-Brown and James Edge are toe-deep in the stuff. Brooding. Bickering. Bullshitting. Tapako-Brown brings a Black Annis, banshee-ite energy that is ferocious, frightening, and full on. She walks softly while never letting go of the big crazy stick. Tapako-Brown glides across the sand more elegant than Audrey Hepburn juggling bottles of Chanel °5. Yet she’ll turn on a sixpence, 0 to 60 faster than a Bugatti Chiron. It’s a hell hath no fury performance that’s not to be missed by anyone who’s ever wondered what it might be like to watch a Hollywood star of the old school live on stage.

At the crease, batman James Edge must play over after over with (seemingly) no idea of what kind of ball will be bowled at him next. Bouncers, inswingers, yorkers, and then the deadly slower paced deliveries that really show off Tapako-Brown’s range and skill. Edge might have played defensively, given up the sandy ground to let his colleague strut her stuff. Instead he gives as good as he gets modulating his performance from sleepy lion to buzzed-up fox. Edge does authenticity like Sir Francis Chichester did knots. He’s intricate, solid, reliable – as perfect a pairing with Tapako-Brown as when gin met tonic.

Get your coats on. Come for the set. Stay for the performances. Despite the script, you won’t be disappointed.


Reviewer: Dan Lentell

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“I don’t think the CSA would have won independence had Breckinridge bene president. No one was going to make that happen given the determination of Lincoln and his people.” – Author William C. Davis talks about ‘An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government’

“I do suspect that by the time of the flight from Richmond, Davis had become intermittently delusional, as he could not see, what all around him saw.”

WHAT: “A dramatic retelling of four months in 1865…; A true story full of political treachery and physical adventure; Author is arguably the foremost authority on the American Civil War; In February, 1865, the end was clearly in sight for the Confederacy. Lee was defeated at Gettysburg, Grant’s victory at Memphis had cut the South in two, and Sherman’s brutal march through Georgia had destroyed what was left of the Southern economy. With the land shattered, people starving, and no hope left, the reality for the secessionist government was grim. An Honorable Defeat is the story of four months in 1865, during which the South surrendered, the North triumphed, and President Lincoln was assassinated, told with style and with absolute historical accuracy.”

WHO: “William Charles “Jack” Davis (born 1946) is an American historian who was a professor of history at Virginia Tech and the former director of programs at that school’s Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. Specializing in the American Civil War, Davis has written more than 40 books on the American Civil War and other aspects of early southern U.S. history such as the Texas Revolution.[1] He is the only three-time winner of the Jefferson Davis Prize for Confederate history and was awarded the Jules and Frances Landry Award for Southern history.”

MORE? Here!


Why ‘An Honorable Defeat’?

I have always found the story of the last days of the CSA government and the flight of Davis and the cabinet to be fascinating. Inevitable, tragic, at times comic, and at others suspenseful.

Did the CSA ever have a viable path to victory via an exclusively military route?

In a word, No. That is to say, I see no way the CSA was going to win independence on the battlefield so long as Lincoln and the people of the Union were willing to keep fighting, which they showed they were from the outset. Only massive foreign intervention might have turned the tables, and no European power regarded having an independent CSA as worth the potential cost of being at war with the Union’s huge army and modern navy.

Was Jefferson Davis too quick on the draw in 1861? Should he (could he) have exhausted
any of the other options – such as attempting to establish the legal right of states to exit the Union in the courts – before firing on Fort Sumter?

I think so. In fact, in February-March 19861, I think the CSA’s best chance was in the Supreme Court, which had a pro-Southern majority on the bench. Instead of seizing arsenals and other clearly warlike acts, they could have filed suits through the federal district court in Richmond or elsewhere, which they surely would have won, and then Washington would have appealed it to the supreme court. Of course, like Andrew Jackson before him, Lincoln could simply have ignored a court ruling.

Could Davis have made a worse job of leading his government into exile? Does this chapter typify his wartime presidency, or did everything in his public life become him EXCEPT the leaving of it? Were you ever tempted into thinking he was trying to be captured and put on trial?

I do suspect that by the time of the flight from Richmond, Davis had become intermittently delusional, as he could not see, what all around him saw. He was simply too invested in the CSA mentally and emotionally to admit it was dead. Consequently, I think it possible that he even hoped to be killed during the flight rather than outlive it. Failing that, he very definitely wanted a trial so he could make the case that secession was lawful, and there he and the seceding states were not traitors. Fear of such a court ruling was a bit part of why Washington chose not to prosecute him.

Who was John C. Breckinridge? You seem to suggest that had he been at the helm the CSA
might have stood a better chance of winning its independence. Why’s that?

I don’t think the CSA would have won independence had Breckinridge bene president. No one was going to make that happen given the determination of Lincoln and his people. However, I think it probable that had he been president in 1865, he would have negotiated a peaceful surrender and gotten some concessions in return that might have made the transition to reconstruction easier on the South.

“He had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war.” Was Mark Twain right about Walter Scott?

Twain, as often, was being glib and hyperbolic.

In Europe we live our daily lives amid the physical reminders of our past political follies and once trendy cultural foibles. Do you think Americans could ever learn to live with their past rather than in it?

Perhaps not. We—or our leaders—are too fond of making political and social capital out of misstating the past to further contemporary aims.

If you could personally possess one physical item described in your narrative, what would it
be and why?

I’d like to have the pocket compass Breckinridge carried. I believe it is at the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, though not on exhibit.

If you could interview just one character from your drama (without changing the course of
history), who would they be, what would you ask them, and what would you tell them?

Breckinridge of course. I have studied him for more than fifty years, and still find him interesting. I would ask him his innermost feelings about slavery and secession. He was opposed to both personally, but regarded them as lawful and therefore beyond interference. I wonder if he let ambition cloud his judgment when he went over to the CSA.

What are you currently working on?

No books. I am restoring a 1928 Pierce-Arrow convertible coupe to running order. Don’t really know what I’m doing, but I am enjoying it!

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