Ten Plagues - Mark Ravenhill musical inspired by London Plague of 1665

This article is from 2011

Ten Plagues - Mark Ravenhill musical inspired by London Plague of 1665

Marc Almond stars in anticipated 2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe show

Steve Cramer is enticed by the prospect of Marc Almond singing songs of pestilence in Mark Ravenhill’s new musical inspired by the London Plague of 1665

There’s something about apocalypse that has run through the human psyche, and a great deal of art, for over a century. Be it HG Wells’ Martian invasions or Ballard’s Great Droughts, these scenarios are often about moments where everyday life and our usual values are questioned, and mighty existential and ideological issues arise. This new piece, which features none other than pop icon Marc Almond performing songs by Connor Mitchell with a libretto by Mark Ravenhill looks like having the right credentials to cover the ground afresh.

Using a Biblical title and Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year as his starting point, Mark Ravenhill’s script, as director/designer Stewart Laing explains, has a much more contemporary edge than its pedigree might suggest.

‘I think it’s a feeling, having got past the AIDS epidemic, he can look back on it objectively about how people dealt with it,’ says Laing. ‘I think the piece is partly about how people deal with big issues; there’s a mixture of hysteria and rationality, and these things get confused.’

As the director points out, everything Ravenhill writes is about the here and now. ‘You can see things like avian flu in the story. There’s also something about how plague affects not just the people infected but the rest of society here, and turns the world upside down. In the Great Plague, people dreaded the spring and looked forward to the winter, because they knew the warm weather would bring plague.’

The piece amounts to a kind of concert by Almond, but there’s a significant thread through it, which Laing sees as critical. ‘I think Connor Mitchell is exploring the narrative nature of songs: there’s a Kurt Weill song sequence called The Seven Deadly Sins, and that’s kind of where he’s coming from. It’s definitely a narrative piece – there are 16 songs that can only be performed in the order that they’ll be performed. Each song has a consequence that follows on to the next. I think Marc’s a great storyteller, and that’s why he’s such a great musician and singer of songs. It’s like Jacque Brel, where the words are as important as music.’

Ten Plagues, Traverse Theatre, 228 1440, 6–28 Aug (not 8, 15, 22), times vary, £17– £19 (£12–£13). Previews 1, 6 Aug, £12 (£6).

Ten Plagues

  • 4 stars

A thrilling and unique music theatre experience. 'In London came the plague in 1665. 100,000 dead, but I alive.' London is infected. The dead fall in the streets. As the plague pits fill, the people of London struggle to maintain a society in the face of overwhelming mortality. Based on eyewitness accounts from 1665, Ten…