DAVID BENSON – CATO STREET 1820
Pleasance Courtyard V33
July 31st to August 18th (not 12th) 15.15
David Benson here takes us into the world of discontent, plots, sedition and public executions of the early nineteenth century. The Cato Street conspiracy receives much less attention and is less well known then such events as the Peterloo Massacre, recently covered in an excellent film.
David Benson takes us back to the world of executions as mass public entertainment, referring to Thackeray’s witnessing of one, and then building up to what happened to the conspirators of Cato Street. He strikingly becomes each disgruntled plotter, characterising them in a few expressions and words. We feel their optimism and enthusiasm as they see a great opportunity to achieve their revolutionary aims. Benson details just what happens with the form of execution used for treason centuries back, and with the more modest – but still lethal and horrifying – process these men face.
Songs connected to the rebellion are included and we are enjoined to take part in the chorus lines, something that was done with enthusiasm when I was at the show. “Oh give me death or liberty” was resounding in my ears after I had left the venue. Links are made to events and attitudes of two centuries ago and today.
There is humour as well as horror in Benson’s account, and there are chances for audience members to show their knowledge. Considerable research has gone into this show, which is presented with deep feeling and commitment. We almost feel we are living with these conspirators through their actions and words.
David Benson has a brilliant track record in one-man shows, having won Fringe firsts with his Kenneth Williams and with Lockerbie: Unfinished Business, and this is another of his superb successes. Here is a darker side to society, the desire for change, tragically poorly planned and not executed, and a catalogue of characters and incidents brought to life by a master actor.