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Cast announced for upcoming concertplay at St. George’s Hall

2 years ago

By The Guide Liverpool

Cast announced for upcoming concertplay at St. George’s Hall

Leading actors of the stage and screen Dominic Marsh, Danny Webb and Alice Imelda are set to star in a new concertplay (music and theatre collide), due to be toured from 15th– 24th October 2021, stopping at Liverpool’s prestigious St George’s Hall on Friday 22nd October.

I, Spie is produced by leading early music/theatre company The Telling who are excited to be returning to live venues on a six-date English tour.

Known for their boundary-breaking shows where music and theatre collide, The Telling will be performing their new half concert/half play, I, Spie for 3 actors and 5 musicians. It tells the story of composer/lutenist John Dowland’s brush with the Secret Service and how he manages to foil an Italian plot on the life of Queen Elizabeth I. Think Spooks, 16th Century-style!  Ultimately, Dowland’s fate will be left in the hands of the audience who are tasked with deciding how the show should end.

Playing Dowland is Kneehigh Theatre regular Dominic Marsh who has also performed at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and The Globe. Marsh will also be a familiar face to Coronation Street, DCI Banks and Doctors fans.

Alongside Marsh are Danny Webb and Alice Imelda playing the supporting roles. Danny Webb is possibly best known for being the lone survivor in Alien3, but more recently recognisable for his roles in ITV’s Liar, Channel 4’s Humans and the 2021 Netflix film The Dig. Webb will be playing the exciting roles of spymaster Sir Robert Cecil and Topliffe the torturer among others.

Alice Imelda, whose theatre experience includes Clare Norburn’s Creating Carmen with CarmenCo, The Mad Ones (BJW Productions/Derby Theatre) and Tell Me On A Sunday (The Old Laundry Theatre), will take on the roles of Maria (Dowland’s love interest) as well as the future Mrs Dowland and Queen Elizabeth I. Alice also appeared in the film My Dinner with Hervé (HBO/Red Castle).

The drama, directed by Nicholas Renton (BAFTA-nominated Mrs Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, Musketeers, A Room With A View, Lewis, Silent Witness), is centred around an extraordinary letter which Dowland wrote to spymaster Sir Robert Cecil in 1595.  At the time, Dowland was travelling Europe, having taken umbrage in having not secured a court post as a lutenist when one fell vacant.

Cecil had signed Dowland’s travel papers and probably told him to “keep his eyes and ears open”. So when, as a Catholic Englishman, Dowland is approached by English ex-Pats living in Florence and Rome, who are plotting to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I, Dowland dishes up the information on the plot and key players to Cecil. I, Spie imagines the gaps in what we know about Dowland‘s life at that time – what led to the moment of his writing that letter – but also what happened in the aftermath.

“Being a Catholic informant in Elizabethan England was a dangerous business – no one entirely trusted you, even if your information was helpful” explains writer/soprano Clare Norburn.  “The 1580s has seen a series of Catholic plots and the terrifying threat of the Spanish Armada – and with the Queen ageing without any clear succession, by 1595 there was a febrile sense of panic and suspicion.  In that context, it is no wonder that Dowland’s letter reads like a man out of his depths: he sounds scared for his own life – and with good reason.  Catholics who informed were not always fully trusted – many ended up on the gallows. But on the other hand, he does dish up the information and effectively foil the plot… Quite how involved in it all was he?”

The Secret Service’s practice of recruiting students from Oxford and Cambridge goes back to this period.  It was often seen as fashionable and exciting for students to dabble in Catholicism. So there was a ready supply of potential recruits who had already shown Catholic leanings who could easily be turned as informers.

The origins of the modern Secret Service were formed during Elizabeth I’s rule – initially under the direction of the inspirational Sir Francis Walsingham, who initially had to fund the service out of his own pocket.  His death in 1590 caused a vacuum: and a fight for supremacy between Sir Robert Cecil and the Earl of Essex.  So there was potential for double dealing between followers of those two key players within the service itself.

“What is fascinating is how contemporary the issues about how far espionage should have freedom to pursue the country’s safety.  I was also interested in what happens to a musician/composer who suddenly finds himself caught up in this world?  How does informing sit with Dowland being an artist?  All through the ages, musicians and writers have been caught up in espionage: the best known example of Dowland’s age is Christopher Marlowe; but there is also Dowland’s exact contemporary at Oxford, the composer Thomas Morley, who also worked for the service.  And later on, the playwright Aphra Behn, the writer Daniel Defoe… What does it mean to be a writer/composer/performer and privately also a carrier of espionage secrets….?”

The playwright, Clare Norburn, is also the soprano and Artistic Director of The Telling, who are renowned for immersing audiences in a world of music and theatre. They will perform music by Dowland and his contemporaries, alongside Elizabethan tavern, street and courtly masque music.

The Telling have an impressive track record. Earlier in 2021, notable film and TV actors Rachael Stirling and Alec Newman starred in The Telling’s online play with music series, Love in the Lockdown, for which Nick Renton won Best Director at the Screensaver Awards.

Book tickets here.


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