Virtues cloak

Virtue’s Cloak: romance, betrayal and tragedy

Deep in the Heart of Darkness (a lecture room in St Hugh’s) I met with Andrew Raynes, writer and director of Virtue’s Cloak, as well as the tight-knit 6 person cast. Happier Year Production’s newest show, due to start its 5 night run at the Burton Taylor studio this Tuesday (29th), is a whirlwind period piece from Stuart Britain dealing with King James I, and his lover George Villiers, and the romance, betrayal, and tragedy that ensues…

Describe Virtue’s Cloak to me.

Andrew: Virtue’s Cloak is a historical, murder mystery, political drama thing… it features romance, tragedy, silly music, dancing [all the works]!

Why should everyone reading this article come to see it? 

Andrew: It’s good! [the entire cast, and myself laugh in agreement to this succinct answer.]

What prompted you to write the script?

Andrew: A few years ago, I was doing a bit of a Wikipedia trawl, and I came across this guy called Robert Carr. Looking at his Wikipedia page he had done some crazy stuff… I did some more reading and now, many years later, here we are!

What do you think is the importance of telling a queer story from history?

Andrew: I think it’s really important to be able to look at historical events with a sort of modern eye. It’s interesting to try and reinterpret events, or understand why they might have happened in ways that are not necessarily what is recorded in history. I also think, on a larger scale, it is important to talk about, and reinforce the fact that there were queer people in history – James I being one of the most famous – so it’s a ‘we’ve always been here’ type of thing.

Imagine you had the budget of Avatar 2, and you also had the Philosopher’s Stone. You could resurrect or cast anyone possible. Who would you choose?

At this point, because I’ve realised I’m not a very organised interviewer, I let the cast descend into a free-for-all debate. Various ideas get thrown around. Lindley Trueblood (Robert Carr) and Srinetra Banerjee (Frances Howard) suggest that we resurrect the original cast, and in essence make Thomas Overbury suffer the events of the play all over again.

This raises some questions which I didn’t quite consider when I thought of this question – if we resurrect the oldest member of the Royal Family, does that mean they automatically become King? Ellie Yau (George Villiers) suggests answering this dilemma by promptly killing King James after the run is over. The rogue suggestion of casting Chris Pratt as every single role is offered. I found myself agreeing most to Srinetra’s suggestion, that she would have the same cast, but pay them Hollywood salaries.

Taylor Swift recently sang that she wished she could live in ‘the 1830s, but without all the racists / And getting married off for the highest bid’. Would you live in the 1630s without all the aforementioned disenfranchisement?

Lindley: No! [snapping straight on cue] There’s so much plague, that’s the fundamental issue. Everything sucks, no one has ever had a bath, 95% of people are malnourished, and there’s nothing fun to do… although I guess TikTok doesn’t exist, that’s good.

What modern day item of food do you think would shock the characters of the play the most?

Srinetra: Popping candy.

What do you think your characters would do on a night out in Oxford, and why?

Ethan McLucas (King James): He wouldn’t be in Oxford. He would take a cheeky Oxford Tube, he’d go there, get off at Notting Hill, take the Underground to Clapham, and head straight to Bacchus, a club that was formerly a public bathroom (!) and be an absolute fiend.

Lam Guan Xiong (Thomas Overbury): He would definitely be the type to go to Oxford Wine Cafe, or one of the rogue ones… maybe Toby’s Liquid Pleasures, and he’d complain the whole time that no one there was interesting, when he’s kind of shot himself in the foot with the bar choice. [At this point I had to rip my phone out to verify that, yes, that is a real bar on Clarendon Street.] 

A few hours before this interview, Happier Year Productions released a lengthy statement about donating all profits from the show to charities in Palestine. Seeing that, as Oxford, as Britain and as a planet, we are in a moment of political upheaval, how relevant are the politics of Stuart Britain, as explored in the play, for today?

Andrew: The point of analogue is not necessarily what the political events in the play are – mostly it’s very boring taxation stuff – but the thing that I think is resonant is that the play is about friendship, betrayal, and relationships. When I was writing the statement in the post, I was listening to an interview with one of the actors who fled Jenin [in the West Bank] earlier this week. He was talking about the play which they were going to put on, which would have opened today. He said that the main crux of the play is the question of ‘when does my friend become my enemy?’ I think, even though it is on a different scale, in fact, incomparable, I think the themes of loyalty, love, friendship, and the consequences of when those things are broken is what is relevant.

And lastly, what song do you think best describes the play?

Andrew: The title of the play is actually taken from a song by John Dowland, a Stuart composer – ‘Can she excuse my wrongs?’. It’s a song about romance and betrayal, which is why it ended up in the play.

Ellie: ‘I Bet on Losing Dogs’ by Mitski. Actually, just every single Mitski song. Also, every single Marina song. It’s got range.

Srinetra: ‘Love and Hate in a Different Time’ by Gabriels. It’s very much about the complexity of what you do for a relationship, and, even if they’re wrong, how you still make those choices for love.