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  • Writer's pictureBecky Wallis

The Gunpowder Plot - Three Inch Fools - Powderham Castle

Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason, and plot. I see no reason, that gunpowder treason, should ever be forgot.

Touring the country and using some of the most beautiful country estates and houses as their backdrops, theatre company Three Inch Fools are spending the summer bringing two productions to family audiences: Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘The Gunpowder Plot’

You may think that you know the ins and outs of the gunpowder plot, a group of catholic men driven by determination and passion to turn the tide and return Catholicism to favour after years of imbalance and changing rules. And, of course, you may think that you know the man behind the scheme to blow up King James with barrels of gunpowder hidden in cellars below Westminster Palace, the one and only Guy Fawkes, but did you know that it wasn’t all down to him?

The Three-Inch Fools, a group of five performers, describing themselves here as re-enactors, take the tale of the gunpowder plot and make it their own, bringing it to life with flair, comedy, foolery, and songs that wouldn’t feel out of place in some ‘Horrible Histories’ TV programme.

We are introduced to Robert Catesby (played by Gina Jamieson), the man who started all of the plotting, along with his gang of rebels, one of which just so happened to be called Guy Fawkes (played by Dexter Southern). With Jamie Sandersfield taking on the role of Robert Cecil, right hand man to King James (Matthew Nicholson) and one of the government’s most famous spies, even though his assistant Doubleday (played by Amelia Gabriel) does most of the spying, this production of The Gunpowder Plot is an adventurous caper through the ins and outs of the plot, what was the idea, the reasoning, and ultimately why did the plot fail?

The cast excel throughout, making it look very easy to swap characters at a drop of a hat (and there are a lot of hats!). Amelia Gabriel and Jamie Sandersfield had everyone in stitches throughout with their audience interactions and Matthew Nicholson performed with enough gleeful smiles and cheekiness to give The Play That Goes Wrong’s Max a run for his money (also, mischief if you’re listening, I think he would be a great Max by the way). Dexter Southern delights with his accents as Fawkes and his enthusiasm as Thomas Percy and Gina Jamieson’s Robert Catesby keeps the story going with plenty of energy and drive, as passionate about being on stage as Catesby was about the plot.

Although aware that this was in fact a comedy, family friendly production, I was surprised at just how much laughter there was. I was kind of expecting a lot of the comedy to come from quick costume changes and fake moustaches, and whilst there was a fair deal of this, there was so much more than that. From the delight on Jamie Sandersfeild’s face as he danced around to celebrate every execution, to Matthew Nicholson’s disappointment at not being given the role of Guy Fawkes, to Amelia Gabriel’s cheeky remarks as Cecil’s spy Doubleday, there was laughter throughout, with a small chihuahua in the audience only adding to the comedy by barking at just the right time.

There was something for everyone in this production, from the classic throwing water at the audience, quick changes, not so convincing disguises, and fake facial hair to the clever word play and just enough innuendo to delight the adults but float right over the heads of the younger audience members.

With all five of the cast members being actor musos, the production is crammed full of music and more instruments than I can name. From songs to raise the spirits of the plotters to comedy numbers about there being no one else like Robert Cecil, the songs are fun and catchy, pushing the story along at a nice pace.

If I had to nit-pick, all I would say is that the first act feels a little bit long, with a lot of build up to the idea of the gunpowder plot before the interval. This meant that the last 15 minutes of so perhaps felt a little bit rushed, with a lot of explanation and the discovery of the plot being left into the last minute. And just a small note, unsure whether it was a misprint online or perhaps the interval run a little bit long, but the production did run roughly 15 minutes longer than anticipated for reasons unclear.

Overall, this Three-Inch Fools production of ‘The Gunpowder Plot’ is brilliant family entertainment. Think a classic farce mixed with ‘Horrible Histories’ with a little bit of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ thrown in for good measure. It tells the tale of a great historical event in a lot of detail, without taking itself too seriously. It’s not afraid to be silly and poke fun, much to the delight of the audience and the five cast members certainly gave it their all in some very warm conditions at Powderham Castle.


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