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Synopsis - Act I
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The show opens on a modern Bonfire Night celebration, with the chorus singing No 1 – Remember! Remember! During the number we gradually move back to the beginning of the seventeenth century and the coronation of King James the First. In No 2 – The Queen is Dead , the congregation mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth and hail the accession of the new king.
Attending the ceremony is a young Catholic nobleman, Robin Catesby. While James promises a lessening of the repression that Catholics suffered under the old queen, Catesby is sceptical and, in No 3 – All of Our Fathers , warns his friends and comrades not to be fooled by the new king’s promises.
Meanwhile, in Flanders, two soldiers run for cover from the cannon fire of a battle. They are Tom Wintour and Guys Fawkes – both Catholic mercenaries. Wintour tells Fawkes of the new optimism for men of their faith back home in England, but Fawkes is sceptical. Left alone, Fawkes expounds his views on life in No 4 – No Prayer at All .
Back in England – at White Webbs, the home of Catesby’s friend Anne Vaux – the household is preparing to hold a secret Mass. Two Jesuit priests – Henry Garnet and John Watt – lead the service and Catesby, Vaux and the others join in with No 5 – Credo . After the ceremony, the house is suddenly invaded by soldiers in search of Catholic priests. In No 6 – Deception , Catesby and Vaux desperately try to distract the soldiers, while another of the worshippers, Nicholas Owen, conceals the two priests in separate priest-holes that he has previously built in the house. They are hindered by the maid, Jane Finwood, who, unknown to them, is a government spy.
In the end, the soldiers find Watt and take him away, but Garnet remains safe. The mood darkens and left alone, Vaux sings of the trials of being a Catholic in a Protestant land (No 7 – Judgement for All ).
In the Tower of London, the king’s chief minister and spymaster, Robert Cecil, questions the dishevelled Father Watt, who refuses to talk. Cecil goes to speak to the king, trying to quieten his fears over the people’s reaction to his increased oppression against Catholics (No 8 – Am I Not King? ). Cecil also mentions that his spies have told him that a number of known Catholic activists have been returning to England – including one Guy Fawkes.
In a London tavern, Catesby has gathered together a band of men whom he can trust. It includes Tom Wintour and many others. With the arrival of Fawkes, just returned from Flanders, the team is complete. Wintour announces that he has discovered that Father Watt has died under torture. For Catesby, this is the last straw. He announces his plan to the others – a plan to blow up King James and the whole of Parliament. Some are sceptical, but Catesby brings them all round to his point of view with the rousing No 9 – Stand With Me .
Catesby’s plan swings into action. The first step is for Wintour and Fawkes to rent a house in Westminster from the naïve Susan Whynniard (No 10– Rental ). To their delight, she innocently informs them that it has a cellar that runs right underneath Parliament.
Once she has departed, they are joined by Catesby and the other plotters. In No 11– Thirty-Six Barrels , they begin to take the gunpowder down into the cellar.
Back at White Webbs, Nick Owen and Jane Finwood sing of their undying love for one another in No 12– A Moment in Time . Owen remains ignorant of her treachery.
Anne Vaux is consoling her friend, Lady Elizabeth Monteagle, who is torn between her husband – Lord William Monteagle – and her brother – Francis Tresham. Tresham is a close friend of Catesby and while Lady Monteagle does not know any details, she suspects that they a plotting something against the government. Lord Monteagle is one of King James’ ministers and would be killed in any action the plotters took.
The ladies are interrupted by the arrival of Catesby and Father Garnet. They leave, but eavesdrop as Catesby confesses his plot to Garnet. Garnet tries to order Catesby to give up the plan, but Catesby refuses. Garnet – silenced by the seal of confession – is unable to reveal the plot to anyone. The men argue and both storm out.
Vaux and Lady Monteagle re-emerge, shocked by what they have overheard and desperate to find a way to prevent the plot without having the plotters arrested. They decide to send an anonymous letter to Lord Monteagle, veiledly informing him that there is a plot, but without revealing the identities of any of the plotters. In No 13 – The Monteagle Letter , they begin to write the letter and hand it to Finwood to deliver. Instead, she takes it straight to Cecil who reads it before allowing her to take it to Monteagle, who in turn hands it straight to the king.
While he knows nothing for sure, Lord Monteagle suspects that Catesby – whom he still counts as a friend – may have something to do with the letter. He warns Catesby that a plot could only end badly for him.
Catesby tells the other plotters what Monteagle has told him. Suspicion as to the source of the letter immediately falls on Tresham; of all the plotters, he is the one with the closest links to Monteagle. Only Catesby remains faithful to Tresham and brings the others round to his point of view. Even so, Tresham walks out on the plot.
Finwood is revealed to have been eavesdropping on the conversation. She tricks Owen into revealing more details of the plot – although he himself has little idea of what is going on. Owen, however, realises at last that Finwood is a government spy. She runs off and he is left alone to sing of his betrayal by her (No 14 – You’ve Never Been in Love ).
No 15 – The Fuse is set on the eve of November 5th and shifts from scene to scene as all the protagonists prepare for the day to come. Catesby and the other plotters make ready to seize power once the king is dead. Owen warns Catesby of what he has discovered about Finwood, but Catesby brushes off his concerns.
Vaux, Garnet and Lady Monteagle worry about their friends and families, while in London, Cecil tries to calm James’ fears. They re-examine the letter sent to Lord Monteagle, and suddenly Cecil realises that the threat will involve gunpowder. Before he can act, Finwood enters and fills in the details that he had not yet worked out. He orders a search of Parliament.
Beneath Westminster Palace, Wintour bids farewell to Fawkes and leaves him to perform the final act of lighting the fuse.
As the number, ends soldiers, led by Cecil, pounce on Fawkes.
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