Four Nights in Knaresborough

Paul Webb
Theatre Enigma
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
(2004)

Less history lesson than character exploration, Four Nights in Knaresborough is a bumpy, if not altogether unsatisfactory, ride. It tells the story of the four knights who murdered Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, and of the year they subsequently spent holed up in Knaresborough Castle.

The play attempts to bring issues of interpersonal conflicts to the forefront, hinting at conflicts, relationships, and losses that later flower into full-scale shouting matches and hinged-upon plot points. The "Tarentino-esuqe" label that preview articles have slapped on this piece is a bit of a misnomer - it bears more resemblance to Brian Helgeland's 2001 film A Knight's Tale than it does to Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction. In fact, in some ways, Four Nights seems far more filmic than theatrical - which possibly accounts for writer Paul Webb's apparent success in transforming the script into a screenplay for Miramax. It may be that some of the less effective moments of emotional revelation in the first act - confessions of love and past indiscretions - will translate far better to the intimate experience of a thirty-foot-high movie screen than they do to the life-sized but thirty-feet-distant stage.

There are several moments during the performance when the tension between characters is lost, not through the fault of the actors, but because (surprisingly) the usually tiny Traverse 2 theatre is simply too open to assist in creating a psychologically claustrophobic space that would, in turn, heighten the suspense of the characters' declining mental states.

As Brito, the youngest and most eager to please (in a variety of ways) of the knights, Malcolm Hamilton is probably the most sympathetic of the four characters. Initially, Brito's crass nature makes one want to dislike him, but it is hard not to be won over by Hamilton's empathetic performance. The other notable performance is Adam Tomkins, playing the three roles of Becket, Wigmore (a local farmer bent on insurrection) and a visitor to the castle. His final appearance, as the visitor seeking to tell the knights what the people of Knaresborough think of their presence in the castle, is delivered in a manner not unsuited to a Monty Python film. Kevin MacIssac gives a solid performance as Morville, and James Sutherland's Traci is probably the most emotionally accessible of the four knights. Unfotuantely, Fitz (Keith Hutcheon) is too much of a caricature to be taken seriously as the villain of the piece.

There are failings in Four Nights that keep it from being an exceptional piece, but whether these are due to the script or due to a weakness in direction (by Sean Kane) is unclear. Moments of emotional connections between the characters often seem to come from nowhere - is this because the script fails to place enough emphasis on the build to these moments of exposition, or because Kane's direction has not highlighted or enabled the actors to rush through hints that are actually there? It's impossible to tell without closer study of the text of the piece.

Four Nights sold out its first night at the Traverse, and yet after the interval it seemed there was slightly more room on the previously packed benches. Whether due to audience shrinkage or people pressing in closer for a better view of the stage is unclear.

"Four Nights in Knaresborough" plays at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, from 30 September - 2 October, 2004

Rachel Lynn Brody