There are fields all across England upon which the pitched battles of the War of the Roses were fought. From the Battle of St Albans in 1455 to the closing Battle of Bosworth three decades later much blood was spilt as the houses of York and Lancaster fought to rule the land (Lancaster won, sports fans). These battles have not been forgotten - they are frequently re-enacted on the grass where the action originally took place by a strange breed of folk who enjoy dressing up in armour and embracing aspects of medieval life (and death).
The highly regarded Robert Shearman's fourth play for the Stephen Joseph Theatre (directed by Alan Ayckbourn) tells the tale of six such re-enactors, a motley bunch who use their weekend hobby to escape from a variety of personal tribulations. Shearman avoids giving a history lecture, although there are some interesting points about 15th century battling to take home, instead focusing attentions on conflicts in the characters personal lives.
While designer Pip Leckenby's field set is, well, just a field really, the clunky, authentic costumes, which must be hell to perform in, are great. They also serve occasionally as a comedy prop, getting in the way of embraces.
The amateur warriors, under Reg's (Peter Laird) leadership, have been meandering along quite pathetically for some time, eating their sausage rolls prior to fighting out historical conflicts. The apple cart is upset when new knight on the block Keith (Simon Green) turns up. He is as mediocre as the rest of them although his arrival opens a can of worms and sparks a power struggle, despite the fact that he doesn't want to be leader.
Barbara (Jennifer Luckraft) is unhappy with her sexless (strictly birthdays, Christmas Day and anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth only) lot with historical trainspotter and failed teacher husband Graham (Barry McCarthy). She leaves Graham for Keith but quickly realises her lover is just as dull as her husband. While the 'battles' take place off, Graham and Keith do indulge in some serious duelling courtesy of fight director Wolf Christian.
Meanwhile teenager Stephen (Danny Nutt) develops a serious infatuation with Chloe (Alison Senior) who would be best described as a dumb blonde had her hair not been fluorescent green.
Six battles and a few laughs later the conflicts are resolved. During the light comedy, Shearman raises some interesting points, noting a nation's disrespect and disinterest in historical events marked by thousands of deaths. It makes you think, as Barbara is wont to say. Invariably, and this is Shearman's point, it doesn't.
Knights in Plastic Armour continues at the Stephen Joseph Theatre until 18 September 1999.