From pirates to kings: New plays explore our history’s hidden secrets at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

PUBLISHED: 10:00 06 May 2017

Cast members of the Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Picture: Mark Sepple.

Cast members of the Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Picture: Mark Sepple.

Mark Sepple

Historical plays usually conjure up images that we associate with specific periods - such as knights and the middle ages.

Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Picture: Mark SeppleAnne Bonny and Mary Read. Picture: Mark Sepple

However, we rarely see modern themes in these historic plays as Knights in the 14th century didn’t worry about the ramifications of Brexit or social media blunders.

But, just because we live in a different era doesn’t mean there weren’t issues such as racism and sexism prevalent at the time that we can learn lessons from.

Anne Bonny and Mary Read and The Only Jew in England come to the theatre, in Billet Lane, on May 17 and May 18 respectively, as part of the East 15 Acting School’s Secret History Season.

Writer Che Walker’s Anne Bonny and Mary Read explores the relationship between the titular characters who were the only known women convicted of piracy during the 18th century.

The Only Jew in England. Picture: Mark SeppleThe Only Jew in England. Picture: Mark Sepple

Anne and Mary, who both disguised their gender at various times throughout their lives, fell in love with each other when the former joined pirate John “Calico Jack” Rackham’s crew in the Caribbean.

Che explained that his latest play is an exploration of identity and how we as a society have become more liberal over the centuries.

“I was interested in how we came to live the way we live, and how the ego had to fight to push the human race forward,” said Che.

“The Caribbean Pirates in the 18th Century, though often ruthless and amoral, did strike a blow for Liberty, especially Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

“There are several explorations of intense female friendships throughout my earlier plays and this felt like a natural relationship to explore.

Continuing with the theme of Identity The Only Jew in England by playwright Samantha Ellis follows the story of Dom Marco Raphael who was, supposedly, as the title suggests the only Jewish person in the country during the early Tudor period.

“I had been wanting to write about the rise in anti-Semitism today, and the fear of difference, and when I heard about Dom Marco I thought I could do that by writing about Tudor England where people had all kinds of wild ideas about Jews,” said Samantha. “Despite the fact that Dom Marco was officially the only Jew to set foot in the country.

“When I discovered that Henry VIII’s court was full of secret Jews - including (possibly) the musicians who formed his reluctant backing band - I got excited about looking at how Jews and other minorities respond to hatred.

“So this is a story about racism, a love story, and also a romp and a bodice-ripper set in a Tudor world that is full of difference.

“It’s also full of fear of difference, all set against the backdrop of Henry VIII making his very own Brexit.”

Anne Bonny and Mary Read runs from Wednesday May 17 to May 20 and The Only Jew in England from May 18 to May 20.

The theatre is launching a new “pay what you think it’s worth” scheme which offers theatregoers the chance to see both plays for free - with audience members asked to give a donation at the end to reflect what they thought of the piece.

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