Our landlord, the Questors Theatre, is as busy as ever, and the place at the moment has an extra sparkle as trees, tinsel and fairy lights shine out to celebrate Guy Fawkes night and Remembrance Sunday. One wonders if they will survive as long after the event and still be glistering come Leap Day. Ah well, at least their current production is suitably grim, in a good way: The Crucible by Arthur Miller.
Watching this tale of Puritan intolerance, it is easy to imagine the Seventeenth Century as a humourless time of unrelenting sobriety, but let’s not forget that it also produced Andrew Marvell, John Evelyn, and most of all John Milton. The Archives reveal that all three attended Richard Slaney’s fledgling Tuesday evenings at Pitzhanger Manor in the 1660s, but they were hardly brash young Turks by then, heady with Restoration licence. No, they had all provided verse and commentary throughout the Civil War and Commonwealth, and one suspects that the later events in Salem would have horrified them – especially Milton, who famously advocated for free speech even in the face of Cromwell, warts and all.
The speech was certainly free at this week’s workshop as Owen Gallagher gave voice to the theatre of the mind, wherever that is. And in a welcome return, Caroline Am Bergris both grinned and blanched in a poem was so good that she read it twice. Meanwhile, Daphne Gloag has been watching birds about to fly and looking for half-rhymes for ‘love’, while John Hurley describes the terrible and mundane sights of dementia. Martin Choules has been feeling suitably seasonal (as in November-y) and worried that it might all be too good, and Gillian Spragg has been overhearing a one-sided conversation for two. The sharp realities of a failing love affair have put Peter Francis in a ballad mood, while Alan Chambers has taken an old verse of his and stood it on its head, and it’s such a pretty picture !
‘Jackie’ Milton beta-tested much of Paradise Lost with the nascent group, but it did not always go down well with his fellow poets. Some found his Satan to be dangerously charismatic, while others thought his God too much of a tyrant. One even challenged why he didn’t take his thou-shalt-nots across the Atlantic since they obviously didn’t belong in these Restoration times. But Milton stayed in the Pandæmonium that was London, perhaps preferring to rule the literary world in Hell rather than to serve in the brave new Heaven.