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Under the Black Flag at Shakespeare’s Globe

Marion Marples

How did Long John Silver lose his leg?

Simon Bent's new play for Shakespeare's Globe is a well researched pirate tale, giving authentic historical detail on life during the republican years of Cromwell, when there were constant threats to the new freedom through press ganging, white slavery and brutalism, all in the name of a Christian God and in the language of the King James Bible.

John Silver (Cal MacAninch), a landless labourer, son of a ranting (occasionally naked) preacher, looks forward to freedom after the execution of Charles I. But Cromwell's 'modern moral army' is just as tyrannical as its predecessor. Named 'saint' Captain Mission (Robin Soans) and General Harrison (Howard Ward) force him to flee. Silver is next seen on board ship with Mission and his naïve son Harold (Matthew Dunphy) as it is attacked by pirates. Many of this company appear in the Globe's production of Coriolanus and here also use a range of regional accents to good effect

The action ranges from the sea (a lot of it), the twin Moroccan ports of Rabat Sale, the Sultan's court and ends with a tempestuous storm at the mouth of the Amazon. Silver attracts bad luck but is a survivor. He is seduced by the beautiful Sultan's daughter (the alluring Akiya Henry) and is converted to Islam. Here Belinda Sykes's multi cultural music comes into its own to create a suitably attractive Moorish atmosphere. The music , including pirate songs and the Muezzin's call, throughout supports the action well, unusually including a saxophone and accordion.

The play touches too many themes for any idea to be completely worked through-freedom, the role of religion in life, selling out to foreign powers, revenge. There are as many murders as in the recent Titus Andronicus and quite a lot of blood. But there is lively repartee from Billy Bones (Paul Rider) and Black Dog (Ciaran McIntyre) among others.

The leg was lost in the final storm. This is a poignant note as the play is dedicated to Bent's niece and boyfriend, killed in the Tsunami.

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