Glyn Maxwell's play is a dull history lesson





I know no artistic director who is more sensitive to, or pugnacious about, bad notices than Dominic Dromgoole of the Globe, so it's been a relief this year to discover that most of the shows have been excellent.

This closing production, however, is a bummer, and reveals Dromgoole's Achilles' heel. He rightly wants to put big meaty new plays on his stage as well as Shakespeare, but he has a bad habit of confusing ambitious intentions with actual achievement.

Liberty, about the reign of terror during the French Revolution, certainly isn't as bum-numbingly terrible as We the People, Eric Schlosser's epic last year about the framing of the American Constitution which made the average parish council meeting seem like a wild night at a lap-dancing club.

But Glyn Maxwell's play is nevertheless a terminal snorer, and the feeling of relief when it ends proves the highlight of the night.

The piece is based on Anatole France's novel Les Dieux ont soif (1912) and concerns the varied fates of six characters who find themselves caught up in the bloody flow of revolutionary history, ranging from a sweet old aristocrat now reduced to giving street puppet shows to an idealistic magistrate who ends up sending the innocent to the guillotine in the name of liberty and equality.

The piece is written in iambic pentameters, though the blank verse rhythms are unobtrusive and, thanks to cuts in the text, sometimes non-existent.

You can see why the Globe was drawn to the play, since we are currently living in another age of so-called terror.

And Maxwell draws the obvious modern parallel, showing how the French revolutionaries quickly proscribed the very freedoms that originally inspired them in the name of self-defence against their enemies. Something similar is going on now in the West's craven response to radical Islam.

But Dromgoole would have done far better to have commissioned a play that seriously tried to get inside the minds and motives of those involved in Jihadist Islam today rather that retreating into safe historical parallelism...

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