Many fine dramas take place in some form of limbo, where the characters are marooned in a state of eternal suspense, at the mercy of forces outside their control, and Four Nights in Knaresborough is very much of that genre.
Like Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead it focuses on the supporting players rather than the central figure – in this case Thomas Becket. The four knights who murdered him are seen over four nights during their self-imposed imprisonment in Knaresborough Castle while they wait to see how the King and the Pope will react to their dastardly deed.
So how do they spend their time as the days (and nights) drag by? Drinking, yes, lust, yes, a bit more casual slaughter and lots of male bravado in the modern idiom, with several protracted turd and cock jokes and a gruesome tooth extraction.
The only real surprise is that two of them have spent a lot of time screwing each other in the past, and the ultra-macho Fitz (Alex Hughes) took four years to get over the fact that the rather nobler De Traci (David Sturzaker) abandoned him when he, Fitz, got married and fathered a son who then died.
De Traci now fancies the full-blooded young Brito (Tom Greaves), who in turn lusts after the castle housekeeper, Kate (Twinnielee Moore). She, though, has a soft spot for the owner of the castle, De Morville Lee Williams, who looks more like a bewhiskered Harry Potter, minus the specs, and seems equally ill-equipped to deal with anything as subtle as love.
Towards the final quarter the writer, Paul Webb, finally gets to grips with the more interesting questions of the men’s troubled consciences, their shaky belief in God, and, in short, what on earth they are meant to be doing in this life. Too late, alas, to allow the drama truly to grip. We have spent too much time in the knights’ testosterone-fuelled company to appreciate the finer points of writing when they appear.
The performances are earthy and committed, the set design (Martin Thomas) thoroughly atmospheric, and the direction (Seb Billings) assured, but the play emerges through the copious amounts of dry ice as somewhat less than the sum of its parts.