Set in Chester in 1645 as England was ravaged by the Civil War, Offered Up, at the Liverpool’s Royal Court Studio Theatre is a commentary on the political and social life of the period and a tale of personal survival that resonates today.
a commentary on the political and social life of the period and a tale of personal survival
Alfie Heywood creates a period effect with his functional fixed set in the form of a half-timbered building that is the entrance and serving area of the local inn and also a family home. It fits well with the tables and chairs arrangement that forms the seating in what would be the front stalls and it would not have been amiss for director Paul Goetzee to allow the action to spill over into this area to escape the confines of the narrow stage area and heighten its intimacy. Costumes complete the period atmosphere and the opening sound of gunfire reminds us that these are dangerous times, with towns and villages being the battlegounds of the forces who fight for either King Charles or Cromwell. It's a country where members of families and communities often find themselves with divided loyalties.
Wilmas (Ben Tiramani) is a devout man who was bereaved of his wife and now does all he can to protect his daughter Rosamund (Katy Metheringham) from the hands of men who would defile her. She god-fearingly goes about her domestic and accounting duties, the latter allowing references to the economically hard times in which they all live, involving shortages and rising prices. She has strongly held views and within the confines of the respect she must afford her father, is also something of a rebel. Indeed she does at times overstep those bounds. She has all the makings of a woman who is not to be argued with, a status already achieved by Jennet (Helen Carter). Injured in the opening distant skirmish she arrives at the inn seeking first aid, food and drink which at times she secures at gun-point.
This no-nonsense woman has survived life on the highways and gives the appearance of someone who would fit nicely into a wild-west movie. She also has a rather confusing fraudulent money-making scheme up her sleeve around which most of the play eventually revolves. Just as they settle into co-existence Thomas (Harvey Robinson) appears on the scene. Proclaiming himself a priest, he seems ill at ease with the piety of his office and highly suspect from the moment he enters. There follows a series of twists and turns, many of which are predictable, along with revelations that are not always devastatingly remarkable and some situations that are at times a little far-fetched. The characters, however, are well-drawn and it takes very little time to know what to expect from them.
Tiramani captures the enfeebled status of a man struggling to connect with his daughter and live with the loss of his wife while trying to make a living. In a reversal of traditional expectations, Carter’s Jennet is everything Wilmas is not: unafraid, challenging, ruthless and determined to stand up for herself. Robinson deftly rings the changes that come with the alterations in his role, at times being thoroughly creepy. Metherington superbly captures the puritanical spirit of a virtuous maiden with the confidence that stems from her faith and the knowledge that her life is safe in the hands of God. This is a very impressive professional debut for her that in many respects holds the play together.
In Offered Up, playwright Joe Matthew-Morris demonstrates that the very structure of a stratified society inevitably leads to increasing economic disparity and the exploitation of those at the bottom by the minority at the top who have privilege and power. Sexual abuse, religious and moral hypocrisy and male domination have been rampant throughout history.