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Four Nights in Knaresborough at Southwark Playhouse

Kevin Newton

Paul Webb's medieval play returns to London with a burst of power chords and a clash of powerful performances at the atmospheric Southwark Playhouse.

The stark qualities of London Bridge's railway arches ensure that it requires little suspension of disbelief to imagine yourself in Knaresborough Castle, Yorkshire, watching events unfold in the aftermath of the slaying of Thomas Becket by the four knights now ensconced within its walls.

The story follows the fictional course of four evenings spread over the year after the killing, as the knights, to avoid the wrath of the public and the pope, are sent to repent by Henry II. During this time we are shown the Knights differing reactions to the act, from Morville's portrayal, by Lee Williams, of a man so wracked with guilt that he repeatedly dreams his justification speech and, plagued by the ghost of Becket, eventually descends into alcoholism, to the younger Brito (Tom Greaves), who channels most of his energies into his sexual desires towards Catherine, the castle's enigmatic Housekeeper.

Catherine, superbly played by Twinnielee Moore and seemingly set for marriage to Morville, makes up the central link in the play's disjoined love-pentagon and provides our link to the outside world and the villagers' sentiment towards the Knights. The sexual tensions are completed between David Sturzaker's Traci and Alex Hughes' powerful performance as Fitz, the man who struck Becket's fatal blow and whose brutal veneer hides a depth of character which is eventually exposed, offering his own justification for his brutality.

The modern language of Webb's script, alongside the proliferation of toilet humour and sexual language of Brito, ensure that there is also an equal measure of light-hearted scenes, with plenty of laughs throughout, the pick being Brito's conflict with a loaf of stale bread "If this bread damages my sword in any way, I will break down and cry". Some of the cruder lines, however, do miss the mark with much of the audience. What does hit the right note is the superb use of modern music between scenes, from the alt-rock of Modest Mouse to the Beastie Boys' explosive 'Sabotage'. As a device to highlight and heighten tension, this fits the bill perfectly.

For an evening of historical unease accompanied by modern humour, Four Nights in Knaresborough may not always be to everyone's taste, but there can be no doubt that it entertains throughout.

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