Review: 55 Days at the Hampstead theatre

Mark Gatiss as King Charles I. Photo Catherine Ashmore

I have a peculiar relationship with british history. As I never studied it at school, all my knowledge comes from fictional universes. When I hear of Oliver Cromwell, I am more likely to think of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright than any historical facts. With that in mind (which is to say with so little about the actual historical facts in mind) I went to see Howard Brenton’s play 55 Days, directed by Howard Davies, about the days leading to the trial and execution of King Charles I amid the English Civil war.

It’s a play of two halves: on one side we have the historical context, more than a dozen characters representing different fractions and ideas, trying to get their point across. I admit that in those scenes I felt lost. The performances were energetic, the direction had urgency but no character had enough time to make their mark with a text that seemed wordy and slow. It felt like the actors were running ahead trying to create momentum while dragging the text behind.  But the mirror side of the play more than makes up for this problem. Continue reading