“I am currently working on a follow up. But I can say no more than that at the moment.” – Author Paul Lay discusses ‘Providence Lost’

“I would ask him why he refused the offer of the Crown. Then I would ask him to think again.”

WHAT: “England, 1651. Oliver Cromwell has defeated his royalist opponents in two civil wars, executed the Stuart king Charles I, laid waste to Ireland, and crushed the late king’s son and his Scottish allies. He is master of Britain and Ireland.

But Parliament, divided between moderates, republicans and Puritans of uncompromisingly millenarian hue, is faction-ridden and disputatious. By the end of 1653, Cromwell has become ‘Lord Protector’. Seeking dragons for an elect Protestant nation to slay, he launches an ambitious ‘Western Design’ against Spain’s empire in the New World.

When an amphibious assault on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in 1655 proves a disaster, a shaken Cromwell is convinced that God is punishing England for its sinfulness. But the imposition of the rule of the Major-Generals – bureaucrats with a penchant for closing alehouses – backfires spectacularly. Sectarianism and fundamentalism run riot. Radicals and royalists join together in conspiracy. The only way out seems to be a return to a Parliament presided over by a king. But will Cromwell accept the crown?

Paul Lay narrates in entertaining but always rigorous fashion the story of England’s first and only experiment with republican government: he brings the febrile world of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate to life, providing vivid portraits of the extraordinary individuals who inhabited it and capturing its dissonant cacophony of political and religious voices.”

WHO: “Editor of History Today. Author of Providence Lost: the Rise and Fall of Cromwell’s Protectorate.”

MORE? Here!

Why ‘Providence Lost’?

‘Providence Lost’ plays on the loss of the English Puritan settlement of Providence Island to the Spanish in 1640, but also alludes to the fact that a later venture into the New World – Cromwell’s Western Design – was perceived. by the Protector in particular as a withdrawal of Good’s support and guidance – His providence. And Milton, as always, is in the background.

Was Cromwell as good a statesman as he was a soldier?

Cromwell was a fine cavalry commander, aggressive and brave, though he only fought on home territory (Britain and Ireland). As a statesman, he became the first commoner to become Britain’s Head of State, through an alliance of soldiers, parliamentarians and religious figures. He was held in high repute abroad. The Protectorate depended entirely on this one man.

The framers of the US Constitution relied heavily on the ancient classical learning and tradition, Addison’s “Cato” was a particular favourite. To whom were those concerned with ideas about English constitutional structures during the interregnum looking for their inspiration?

Venice was an important model for Classical Republicans. ‘They wish to make me a Duke of Venice,’ Charles I warned, with some prescience. The Republicanism identified with Milton was rooted in Classical texts. The most famous work of political philosophy of the times, along with Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, is James Harrington’s Oceana, explicitly modelled on the Venetian constitution and addressed personally to Cromwell.

Why did the Protectorate gamble so much of its credibility on the Western Design? Why did they need to reduce Spanish power in the West Indies? Wasn’t Cromwell fishing with a golden hook?

I am not sure the Western Design was that great a gamble. The Protectorate had a powerful and battle-tested army and navy. And the potential riches – of the flota, the mines of Potosi etc – were enormous. But they had become used to winning and were ill-prepared for tropical conditions. A classic case of hubris followed by nemesis.

What’s the most important thing to know about the Protectorate?

The most important thing about the Protectorate, as a consequence of its existence, is that Britain remains a constitutional monarchy.

There are many players entering, exiting, and waiting in the wings during the drama you chronicle. Were any of them both great AND good?

I think John Lambert, who should have succeeded Oliver Cromwell, was a brilliant soldier, arguably even better than his boss, and a serious political thinker. He was also a fine gardener. His firm, unyielding principles meant that he lived out most of his life in captivity.

(God forbid) Huntingdon’s Cromwell Museum is on fire and you only have time to save one item. What is it? If there was one item you could add to the collection, what would it be?

The Dunbar Medal.

Could the Protectorate have survived without Cromwell, or was some form or Restoration inevitable?

Had the succession gone to Lambert, or indeed Henry Cromwell, it might have succeeded. Had Cromwell taken the crown as Oliver I and accepted hereditary succession, the House of Cromwell may well have survived.

If you could ask Oliver Cromwell one question, other than whether or not he liked pineapple, what would it be? If you could tell him one thing, just to see his reaction, what would it be?

I would ask him why he refused the offer of the Crown. Then I would ask him to think again.

What are you currently working on? (Is it that much-overdue biography of Richard Cromwell?)

I am currently working on a follow up. But I can say no more than that at the moment.


Hidden (The Lyceum: 20-24 October ’15)

“Gives chills and thrills aplenty”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Hidden really is a treat for anyone who’s ever wanted to explore what goes on everywhere else in a theatre that audiences don’t normally get to see. Marry that with tales from the history of the building and a Victorian horror story and you have quite an intriguing evening’s entertainment. However, while the idea and overall style and feel of the piece were terrific, there was no clear narrative or sense of progression between each section, leaving me feeling a bit cheated as to specific details and stories.

Individual sections were generally great at creating an overall mood, setting a scene (the dressing rooms in particular stood out), or presenting a static idea, and the piece was littered with numerous magical moments  – terrified faces and screams, isolated “scenelets” and monologues. Yet we learned very little about who these characters were, why there were there, and how they related to anything else that was going on.

While for most of the performance, the audience is directed where to go next by theatre ushers, in one section in the scenery dock, three of the young performers (Xanthe Mitchell, Ellis Imrie and Anna Millar) more than capably moved us around to follow the action. Staying true to their characters and without speaking, they created a compelling and haunting theatrical moment, demonstrating commanding professionalism and presence beyond their years. Moving into the area beneath the stage, Gregor Weir delivered a very charismatic and spooky monologue about being trapped, making clever use of the space by hiding in between and rattling racks of stored stage lights.

Indeed this whole section (directed by Lyceum Artistic Director Mark Thompson), which allowed the audience to fill the space as they wanted and explore the action from the perspective they chose, gave the piece a very immersive and personal feel. It’s a shame that this sense of individual discovery was not carried through more parts of the performance, particularly the section on the stage, where instead we were asked to simply stand in a line to one side and observe.

In saying that, the section in the stairwell leading up to “the Gods” (very emotively delivered by Emma Simpson and Tegan Wright) was a great way to follow the action, and break-up the sense of travelling from one part to the next by making the travelling itself part of the performance. Similarly, walking behind the bar in the stalls, past three caged performers shrieking to be let out, also helped make the “journey” more interesting to experience.

While it wouldn’t have been right to have delivered this piece in tour guide style, I feel that making more effort to communicate some of the background to each section would have been really beneficial. I felt it also lacked a little bit of diversity in terms of mood – it was almost all a chilling ghost story, when some happier or funnier moments of the theatre’s history would have added another layer of depth to the performance.

Given that this performance was devised and delivered by young people, in collaboration with four different directors, one must give them due credit for their achievement – this is a very ambitious project that gives chills and thrills aplenty, and is a worthy education and exploration into just how exciting theatre can be. For me it just lacked that bit of cohesion to make it really special.

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Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 20 October)

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I, Elizabeth (Assembly Roxy, Aug 7-9, 12-16, 19-23, 26-31 : 11:45 : 1hr 15mins)

I, Elizabeth at Edinburgh Fringe Festival Banner

“Vaughn’s command of the stage is utterly iron-fisted.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

The two hardest things as an actor, at least in my experience, are to memorise your lines and then make to them appear spontaneous and real. To do so without ever losing energy, alone and over a period of a straight hour is nothing short of astounding – and, a feat which Rebecca Vaughn pulls off as Queen Elizabeth nearly effortlessly.
I, Elizabeth is a monologue act pieced together from the Tudor Queen’s assorted letters, poems and private correspondence, and offers a glimpse into the chaotic and rich emotional life behind one of England’s most memorable rulers as presented by the Queen herself.

Vaughn’s character work is undeniably slick: she channels both regality and humility so realistically and so honestly that, even watching from the front, I often forgot I was watching an act at all. And even more impressive was her talent at making irregular, Tudor-style cadence not only make sense to a modern audience, but do it so well that it becomes compelling and, when she wants it to, genuinely funny. Unlike her character’s sometimes shaky political life, Vaughn’s command of the stage is utterly iron-fisted.

But Vaughn’s considerable talent cannot suspend reality by itself, and was aided by a very talented makeup and costume team; the result being a costume with such substance and attention to detail that it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a high-budget period drama. However, just as Vaughn portrayed a partly flawed monarch, so did her performance. Occasionally her emotional energy bordered on the melodramatic, and her tight emotional u-turns sometimes meant that gaps of monologue were lost as the volume increased. And perhaps I’m simply not smart enough to understand it, but some of the tech decisions- particularly a strange, electrical jolting sound to punctuate the monologue – seemed utterly out of place in what was otherwise a very faithful historical recreation, and sometimes completely broke the show’s atmosphere.

Despite these shortcomings, the rest of the show was nothing short of regal. Vaughn should be praised for her unmistakeable dedication to character work. Short of necromancy, it seems she is the woman to call for bringing the long dead back to complex, compelling life.


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Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 7 August)

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