The final push before the after-show party by actor writer David Ruffle

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Photo by Simon Emmett

With the opening night of Monmouth fast approaching, we are all working hard and looking very closely at those last minute essentials: just what do we wear to the after show parties? How quickly can we get to the bar? At what point does Declan whip out his guitar?

The last big push (not to the bar) sees the last four rehearsals where all the fine tuning will be completed and suddenly we have a show on our hands. It’s been hard work getting to this point, months of it in fact. My own involvement goes back to February and the performed reading of the play, even at the very beginning we knew Andy Rattenbury had written something very special and it has been fascinating to watch it all come together.

I get asked many questions about the show, well not that many, but we won’t quibble. For instance; how will the cast feel after the show? Euphoric that we can now shave off our beards, although to be fair, that mostly applies to the men. And it will mean I am no longer mistaken for ex town councillor, Chris Clipson! Are there any similarities between the characters and those who play them? Well, the Duke of Monmouth (Nick Ivins) was charismatic, was often gloriously clothed in purple, had a commanding presence, was ruggedly handsome. Nick sometimes wears purple. Spooky. John Gooden plays the sadistic Judge Jeffreys and the executioner, Jack Ketch. In reality, John wouldn’t hurt a fly although that’s what was said about Norman Bates at the end of Psycho!

The truth for all of us is that in spite of the hard graft we will miss all of it and especially the camaraderie when it is all over and we stumble home in the early hours of the Sunday morning following the last night.   The opening night is 6th July, the anniversary of the Battle of Sedgemoor. A popular misconception is that Monmouth’s rebel army were outnumbered by their Royalist counterparts, but that was not so. Although poorly equipped the rebels numbered upwards of four thousand. Monmouth decided on a risky strategy, a night attack on the Royal camp. The tactic had been used before albeit infrequently and was fraught with danger.  Leaving Bridgwater at about 10 p.m., the Rebel army moved slowly and as silently as possible along the old Bristol road towards Bawdrip. Turning south along Bradney Lane and Marsh Lane, with the cavalry leading, they came to the open level moor with its deep and dangerous rhines. It is remarkable that even allowing for the dark and the mist that this body of men and horses which stretched almost a mile were able to go undetected by the frequent Royalist patrols. Only two and a half miles away their enemy lay. At the Langmoor Rhine the crossing was missed.  After searching in an agony of delay, the route over was found but the first men across startled a cavalry trooper from Compton’s patrol, who fired his pistol and galloped off to report. The pistol shot was not heard at Weston Zoyland, but to the rebels it meant the total failure of a surprise attack, their one hope of success in the campaign.

Warning of Monmouth’s approach was sent back to Weston, and with the call of ‘Beat the drums, the enemy is come’ the royal army prepared for action hastily but without confusion. The rebel cavalry, under Lord Grey, rode forward but failed to find the plungeon or crossing over the Bussex Rhine and were forced by the infantry fire into confusion and panic. A few tried to secure the second crossing of the rhine but also failed. The uncontrollable horses fled into some of the oncoming rebel infantry, adding to the confusion. Nevertheless, the rebel infantry still advanced towards the royal army, and the Dutch gunners with their little cannon, caused considerable casualties among their opponents. But the infantry could not cross the rhine. Cavalry also rode out across the plungeons as the patrols began to come in towards the sounds of battle, and with a pincer movement they attacked the main body of the rebels who continued to fight bravely, though their leaders had decided on flight and were riding off towards the Polden Hills and Bristol. There followed a dreadful slaughter of the fleeing rebels, cut down where they were overtaken. In five short hours it was all over. The rebellion had failed. Monmouth was taken as he made his way to Poole and beheaded on the 15th July barely a month after his triumphant landing at Lyme.

Tickets for Monmouth are selling fast at the Tourist Information Centre. Please come and see our representation of not just an important part of Lyme’s history, but of the nation’s history.

David Ruffle www.storiesfromlymelight.blogspot.com