Review: Four Nights In Knaresbrook – Southwark Playhouse ****

Four Nights in Knaresborough, produced by Tom Greaves for Rooster Productions and Ellie Collyer-Bristow and Jane Lesley for MokitaGrit, is a fantastically nostalgic piece, deftly weaving present-day music and mannerisms into a historical context. Set in a smoky, dingy, freezing room of stone, with only cheap wine ‘that makes vinegar taste like champagne’ providing some relief for the four forlorn knights at the centre of this play, the space is realistically transformed into a place of murder, aggression, lust, and…waiting. This play sets out to depict the lives and loves of those four knights who murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett, as ordered by King Henry, and reconstructs the aftermath of this murder, given the uproar of the English people as a result of such a sinful act. The four knights, fleeing to Knaresborough in North Yorkshire, must hole themselves up in Morville’s home (played melancholically by Lee Williams), tended to by a single housekeeper, Katherine (a buxom Twinielee Moore), and await their fate.

Whilst historical inaccuracies litter the dialogue, the modern adaptation of this tale – penned by Hollywood screenwriter Paul Webb – coupled with the endearing eccentricities of the four main, characterful knights, results in a play that is at once comedic and poignant. Witty humour pervades the text, yet the issues that surface, such as the existence of God, free will versus duty to one’s King, homosexuality, unrequited love, and the finality of death, are sombre and meaty, and are explored through realism, humanity and confusion. The limitations of the human mind in understanding the complexities of life, and love – which is aptly described as ‘lust with a temporary bout of insanity thrown in’ – provides a range of unsatisfying yet accepted conclusions, and ultimately demonstrates the main reasons each man had for their part in killing the ‘holy’ Thomas Beckett.

accessible, moving, disturbing and laugh-out-loud

The characters are performed with ease by most of the cast, although special mention must go to Tom Greaves who delights as the lovable Brito, a brazen young chap who provides much of the comic relief in the play, and David Sturzaker, whose love for his comrade is both subtle and tortured, conveying a touching sense of heartache that in essence underpins every character within the play. The set is used wisely and cleverly, with flickering candles attempting – but not quite succeeding – to reach the dark shadows that both pervade the space, and the hearts of these intriguing characters. With astute direction by Seb Billings, Four Nights in Knaresborough is accessible, moving, disturbing, and laugh-out-loud funny, making it both relevant and entertaining, and great viewing for any spectator.

**** (4 stars)

Runs until 13th August

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