The Gunpowder Plot – A play

Guy Fawkes is visited in the Tower of London by William Shakespeare, who has news of a world-changing conspiracy…

Intrigued by the very British phenomenon of “Bonfire Night” and the attempted assassination of King James (and the rest of the government) in 1605, I set out to research and create a little twisty-turny conspiracy play in 2005. (And you know how I love my conspiracy thrillers – my retrospective discussion of Conspiracy Cinema is coming soon). The play was performed around the 400th anniversary of the plot.

Every year in the UK, people build bonfires out of scrap wood and light them up on the evening of 5th November, commemorating the events around Guy Fawkes. Usually effigies of Fawkes are placed on the bonfire.

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and Plot.
We see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Popular Rhyme

Many people can describe Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to kill the king, but I was surprised at many details that some people didn’t know about.

Firstly, Guy Fawkes wasn’t alone.

Secondly, Fawkes didn’t tunnel under parliament with this gunpowder.

Thirdly, Fawkes and his associates were betrayed and the King and others were aware of the plans.

Lastly, and ironically, the gunpowder was useless.

The depth of the religious divide between Catholicism and Protestantism led to persecution on both sides, and the decision of a group of men to attempt to replace the king and parliament using barrels of gunpowder would lead to terrible retribution.

“The gentler tortures are to be first used unto him
et sic per gradus ad ima tenditur
(and so by degrees proceeding to the worst)”

Letter of King James, 6 November 1605

I started with an imagined conversation between King James and Fawkes (they did actually meet when Fawkes was being tortured). It was then that I had the idea that William Shakespeare, active in London at the time, would appear at Traitor’s Gate in The Tower of London, where Fawkes was held.

I then had to figure out why Shakespeare might have been there too.

Fawkes: Mr Shakespeare. What is this all about? You have asked me lots of questions and I have answered. What more do you want from me? If you are researching a new play and wish to use my experiences as – inspiration – then I suggest you leave now and go and write it. I’ll have no more of it. Do you hear? I refuse to be your toy.

Shakespeare seems torn. But he doesn’t leave.

Why are you using me? Are you trying to write a play about the powder treason?

Will: That is the problem. I already did. Three years ago.

The play is a three-hander, which was performed by my company TheatreFusion on short Scottish Tour in 2005 (directed by Abigail Gemmell, and featuring Colin Little as Fawkes, Andy Dow as Shakespeare and Bob Young as King James).

The play is available on Amazon.


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