Edinburgh Fringe 2017: Guy Fawkes It Up
Some plays are so horrifically uninteresting that, midway through, your head begins wandering over to the pub around the corner, already thinking what drink you'll order once the nightmare ends. Some plays succeed in doing the marvellous opposite, locking you into a dream-like version of reality. And then there's the plays that succeed to such a degree that stepping outside the theatre is like waking up from a trauma-induced fever dream, and you try to work out what the hell you just witnessed for the past hour.
Guy Fawkes It Up is the latter of these plays. Written and directed by James Darby & Chad Porter, Guy Fawkes is a comedia dell’arte reimagining of the infamous 1605 Gunpowder Plot (cue dramatic music). The plot is orchestrated by Roberta Catesby (Charlotte McEvoy) and carried out by an ensemble of interchangeable, witless fools - headed by none other than Fawkes himself (Harrison Cole). The plot is a comedy of errors and knows it, seizing on the farce with multitudes of multi-rolling, sight gags, tech cues, and conducted chaos. Guy Fawkes It Up is an hour of orchestrated, metatheatrical insanity, an audience's fever dream and a drama student's wet dream.
In trying to analyse the performances, I find myself ferreting down a critical rabbit-hole, trying to work out how many levels of metatheatre there were, and becoming more confused than Leonardo DiCaprio's face in Inception.Cole is supreme as Guy Fawkes - or should I say - Cole is supreme as the actor, playing an actor, playing Guy Fawkes, playing “Guy Fawkes”. McEvoy equally excels playing the actor, manoeuvring the “Plot’, whilst manoeuvring the plot, and becoming genuinely frustrated by the other players fooling in the scene and sabotaging this plot. McEvoy, of course, commands every scene, as she literally has to command the scene. There were other moments of a similar ilk that I enjoyed - Will Norris interchanging between witless King James I and witless conspirator Ambrose particularly stood out. And yet, watching both Cole and McEvoy together, consumed within these levels, I lost the line between performance and reality. Trust me: we're through the looking glass, people.
I need to climb out of this hole for a moment - I’ve barely touched on how this all ends up looking. Darby and Porter move the production at a break-off pace, cramming the entire Gunpowder Plot within about fifty minutes, and it feels none of its length. This is both the production's strength and weakness. It is utterly fluid, even using its movement and tempo as a point of humour in the dialogue. It sprints towards the finish line, and then it ends; the plot is foiled, the lights cut out, and that's it. I kept expecting the show to acknowledge itself, signal towards something satirical or witty in the resolution, and it never came. I'm reminded of Porter's production of Gogol’s The Government Inspector, when the protagonist steps out entirely from the show and tells the audience they are simply “laughing at the mirror”. That moment was divisive, maybe even obtuse, but it was a masterstroke, transforming a well-directed farce into something interrogatory and socially relevant. Guy Fawkes contained no such resolution, and I can't help but feel a little disappointed by that.
Nevertheless, though important in my mind, this is the one and only weakness of the show. Guy Fawkes It Up made me laugh like a hyena throughout its running time, and I am confident it will find its audience at the Fringe. Frankly, it is a pleasure to watch artistic direction and craft come together in this way: it elevates the genre; it demands a position and respect that comedies like this deserve.
Guy Fawkes It Up! is written and directed by James Darby and Chad Porter, a Laughing Mirror production, and supported by UEA Drama Society. It is being performed during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at theSpace on North Bridge between 14-26 August.