Review: Reformation

3 star rating
Reflecting on similarities between the middle ages and the present, this play is mildly humorous, but offers little in the way of acute satyrical bite or unique perspectives.
Reformation at White Bear Theatre

Image: White Bear Theatre

Closes here: Saturday 13 July 2019

James Martin Charlton

Janice Dunn


Cranach - Jason Wing

Lucas - Ram Gupta

Ava - Alice De-Warrenne

Gretel - Imogen Smith

Benno - Adam Sabatti

Joachim - Simeon Willis

Albert - Matt Ian Kelly


"… one look in her eyes tells us how she has been wronged …"

Reformation is a funny, gripping and challenging new play inspired by the life and art of the Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach.


Ava learns that the celebrity artist Cranach is visiting her city.

A chance meeting in the market place leads to romance with the artist's son.

Ava gets the chance to model for Cranach's latest painting, 'The Rape of Lucrece'.

When Joachim, the all-powerful Elector of Brandenburg, sees the sketches of Ava, he wants the model.

Is Cranach willing to sell the human his son loves?

In an age where upsetting the powerful meant obscurity or death, what's a poor girl like Ava to do?

Reformation is a play about those who don't make the history books.

It tells the story of a young woman who finds herself in a world where the desires of the powerful have priority.


James Martin Charlton is an award-winning playwright.

His previous plays include the critically acclaimed Fat Souls and Coming Up (Warehouse, Croydon), the sell-out hit I Really Must be Getting Off (White Bear), and Coward (Just Some Theatre Co.).

Janice Dunn is an experienced theatre director, who has worked extensively in the UK and Europe throughout her career.

She is the former Artistic Director of the Mercury, Colchester, where she directed the premier of Howard Barker's The Europeans.

This premier production, in contemporary dress, suggests many striking contemporary resonances between Eva's situation and Time's Up & #metoo.

ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Sunday 7 July 2019
Review star rating image

Just in case your history is a bit rusty ... the Reformation was a movement within European Christianity that is usually recognised to have started around the time that Martin Luther published his Ninety-five Theses in 1517.

Luther's ideas challenged the supremacy of the Catholic Church and contributed to the development of protestantism.

In this play, we're in a time when Luther's ideas have spread, and protestants (or "proddies" as they are called here) are known even to uneducated peasants living in rural areas.

Now we might not actually be in the time of the Reformation because the play text gives an unusual kind of time setting, defining it as "a kind of 1529".

Now you might interpret that to mean it's not really 1529 at all.

Or, maybe it is 1529, but given an updated feel to reflect on the socio-economic similarities between the times of the Reformation and our present-day.

Whatever the case, we don't hear many phrases that make us feel like we're back in the (very) late middle ages.

Even in the first minute, we hear a grandmother saying she's had "a funny tummy" - and only a moment or two later a landowner talks about it being "ever so nippy here in the sticks".

And that's pretty-much how things proceed throughout this play in terms of dialogue - modern language that feels it's from our own era.

In the costume department, we find attire that seems more symbolic rather than accurately aligned with the historical period the play references.

A German Elector (one of a number of princes who elected the Holy Roman Emperor) wears a fur coat that looks like it might have been made in the 1950s, and his archbishop brother sports a coat of crushed velvet and a clerical collar - like those worn by modern-day vicars.

The basic story revolves around an artist called Cranach who paints pictures for the wealthy on commission.

Prompted by Albert, his archbishop brother, Joachim (the wealthy Elector) commissions the artist to paint the The Rape of Lucrece for him.

But when Joachim sees the image of the girl Cranach uses as his model, the Elector bribes the artist to acquire the girl to satisfy his sexual desires.

That poses a dilemma for Cranach because his son has already fallen head over heels for the girl in question.

However, the artist is as much a businessman as anything else, and his ultimate decision is thus entirely predictable.

The role of art as an expression of wealth and power seems almost as important in the present as it was in the sixteenth century.

Ever-rising and astonishing prices in the modern art market reflect the continuing need of the wealthy to pronounce just how rich they actually are through their acquisitions and collections.

But James Martin Charlton's play also confronts the divisions between rich and poor, the abusive nature of power, and how the poor have, perhaps, been bought-off with consumer goods.

Reformation seems to rightly suggest that little has changed over the past five centuries or so in terms of wealth, power, class and status within society.

That message proves relevant enough, but it's hardly a revelatory or unique perspective.

And though it's mildly humorous at times, Reformation lacks the kind of acute satyrical clout or dramatic intensity (or a combination of both) to make it a really distinctive and riveting piece of theatre.

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