Through a Cloud is the second play written by Jack Shepherd, and again it’s a projected dialogue between two renowned characters at a pertinent moment in history. Best known as TV's Wycliffe, Shepherd himself convincingly plays the blind poet John Milton who picnics with an ailing but kindly Oliver Cromwell (David Peart) in the woods of Hampton Court in the 17th century.
Milton's fiancée Katherine (Jody Watson) adds the women's voice to the debate of when and what the New Jerusalem while Peter Kelly relieves the pastoral idleness with much-needed action as George Green, the carver condemned to living rough.
The whole is a treatise of whether the end justifies the means, and indeed just what the end is after years of Civil War, a divided nation and Puritanism? Is utopia only a dream for the bystander while Cromwell is in fact King in all but name? Was it all worthwhile? And, throughout, there are stark parallels with the world today.
Accepting that history is subjective, I still found that the benign Protector challenges my understanding of the Restoration and the unchaperoned Kate defies belief in the understood Puritan dourness and constraint of women.
Prettily set by designer Robin Don on a leafy knoll, Milton waxes lyrical with echoes of Paradise Lost and blunders about - both physically and verbally - with his misplaced belief in the goodness of human nature and his own utopian vision while snatching sly sexual moments with his naïve betrothed. Shepherd well conveys the complexity of the character and flights of fancy believed wholeheartedly by the poet, subtly drawing from his works to present a well-rounded character.
Peart portrays Cromwell as tolerant, to a point, and accepting of that which may be deemed heresy as a quaint idea brought forth from the pretty head of Kate (in an age which spawned the Witchfinder General?). He’s weary of the mantle of office and violently rejects the suggestion that he may enjoy the trappings of power.
Astute as he may be in the machinations of Parliament and the nature of a divided and expectant nation, he misguidedly relies heavily on the integrity of his doctor, a known Royalist, who, it’s said, poisoned him over the last years of his life.
With his writer’s hat on, Sheperd presents some interesting ideas are in Through a Cloud but, in doing so, relies too much on long monologues which are, at times, repetitive. Devoid of much action - save for the carver leaping through the trees, ruing the lost days of fornication and drinking but vociferously expounding the loss of his life's work – both Simon Stokes’ production and Sheperd’s script could benefit from some pruning to keep the audience's attention, particularly in the slow first half.
- Karen Bussell (reviewed at The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth)