Review | Light Shining in Buckinghamshire @ National Theatre

Economic instability, political dissatisfaction, uncertainty over whether your vote will count – welcome to the issues of the day, circa 1647.

Nicholas Gleaves (star) and the company of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. Credit: Marc Brenner. Nicholas Gleaves (star) and the company of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire. Credit: Marc Brenner.

A nobleman sits at the banqueting table of King Charles I and enquires about a servant’s sick child. We all suffer, he admonishes – settling in among the excessive food and golden candelabras, and sipping his expensive wine – but it brings us closer to God.

A soldier gathers a crowd of starving peasants with rhetoric about the imminent second coming and urges them to take up arms against the antichrist Norman king to usher in the New Jerusalem. Scenes of rioting and pillaging follow.

During the 1647 Putney Debates the idealism of the poor, with their desire to choose the leaders by whose laws they will have to live, are undermined by those currently in power. Freedom for the masses, the MPs argue, would lead to anarchy. Better leave the running of the country to those already in charge.

In a series of these and other vignettes, playwright Caryl Churchill guides the audience through Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, a play about the tumult and confusion caused by the brutal civil war that ravaged England in the 1640s.

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