King Cromwell

BY OLIVER FORD DAVIES
12 November 2003 — 13 December 2003

"The great pleasure of the week was Oliver Ford Davies' King Cromwell, which covers a day in the life of the ailing Old Noll just as he's trying to decide whether to accept parliament's offer of the crown. His son Richard begs him not to, as he doesn't want to rule in his turn, as does his close friend Lady Lambert, who wants her husband to become Lord Protector on Oliver's death. There's the puzzling matter of trying to decode God's will in all this, and as if that wasn't enough for one day, he has to have a job interview with Andrew Marvell, someone's trying to assassinate him and his excitable pregnant daughter Bettie wants him to take the role of Jove in a newfangled thing called, cautiously, an 'op-er-a'. This is wonderful, unshowy acting (well, they are all Purtians); especially strong are Claudia Elmhirst as Bettie, Sean Baker as the bluff northcountryman Marvell, and Hugh Simon as the prissy secretary of state John Thurloe. Ford Davies is perhaps not enough of a hard bastard as Cromwell, but it's a magnificent performance all the same. The play is funny immensely moving ad full of still potent ideas."The Independent

"If good history plays offer a metaphor for the present, then Oliver Ford Davies's King Cromwell eloquently passes the test. It deals with, among many other things, the conflict between hereditary and elective principles and the constitutional problems of a second chamber. While being informative and entertaining, its main fault is that it is almost too full of retrospective irony. Ford Davies avoids narrative sprawl by compressing the action into a single day in Cromwell's life in 1657. Confined by illness and death-threats to Whitehall, Cromwell wrestles with Parliament's offer of kingship. Acceptance means that hereditary power will soon pass to his ineffectual, unsoldierly son, Richard. Endorsement of an elective system, however, implies that Colonel John Lambert will succeed and turn England into a permanent military dictatorship. Torn between these choices, Cromwell faces the failure of his dream of creating a true, god-fearing republic. The play's virtue is that it clarifies big issues without over-simplifying them, and conveys the endless paradoxes of Cromwell's character: he's an aesthetic puritan who has music constantly by him, a radical attached to property and social order, a believer who sometimes doubts God's beneficence. Ford Davies himself plays the title-role, under Sam Walters's guileful direction, with a moving sense of the melancholy underneath the rage. Sean Baker also does good work as the equivocating Hull poet, Andrew Marvell, and John Ashton makes a timely late appearance as the Leveller, Edward Sexby, to put the anti-Cromwellian arguments. As a play, it's not perfect, but it is streets ahead of the tushery and tat of TV historical drama."Michael Billington, The Guardian