Great Fire Dinner Plays – five great nights



“What a fun night: everyone we spoke to voted it a great success”
“Everyone enjoyed it and the Bakers made us very welcome”
“All the guests enjoyed it”
“A simply cracking evening”
“What a good night!”

Last week’s dinner plays at Bakers Hall – “The Great Fire of London Remembered: An Evening with Samuel Pepys” – were an overwhelming success.
 
Performed over five nights from Monday 20th to Friday 24th June, the new dinner play attracted capacity audiences from across the City’s Livery Companies. Several Companies made block bookings and the Fuellers took an entire night.
 
The play was commissioned by the Bakers Company from a playwright and actors from Stratford upon Avon, as part of the Company’s contribution to the City’s Great Fire commemorations. The play sits alongside the Company’s new ‘London Ablaze’ organ work for this Great Fire year and the new Great Fire biscuit, using spices of the 1600s, in its commemorative ‘tea caddy’ tin. 
 
The setting for the play was Samuel Pepys’ home, for which Bakers Hall - with its balconies, staircase and room layout - proved ideal.
 
The date was 1681, fifteen years after the Great Fire, and following Pepys’ appointments as Secretary to the Admiralty Commission, Member of Parliament and Master Clothworker.  Pepys is 52, but not well and, after an operation to remove bladder stones in 1658, remains in constant pain, often resulting in strange and irritable behaviour.
 
To the surprise of all guests, Act 1 began in the middle of the pre-dinner Reception in the Charter Gallery with noisy interruption by Pepys from the balcony, remonstrating with his servant Wilkins about the presence of eighty strangers in his house.
 
After some convincing, Pepys remembered, with some reluctance, that he had indeed issued an invitation to dinner, to recount the events of the Great Fire and the controversial aftermath that saw London rebuilt as we know it today. The guests then moved into the Livery Hall for dinner, laid out for the first time with round tables of ten, which themselves added considerably to the enjoyment of the occasion. 
 
Acts 2, 3 and 4 took place around the tables, between the courses of a fine menu created for the occasion by Mark Grove of The Cook & The Butler and Renter Warden of the Cooks Company, and with wines chosen by James Tanner of Tanners Wines of Shrewsbury, a Liveryman of the Vintners.
 
The cast of four actors played eleven parts including Samuel Pepys, Mrs Pepys, Mr & Mrs Wilkins, the Pepys’ servants, King Charles II, Oliver Cromwell and Christopher Wren, with newly composed minstrel songs at the end of each act.
 
In a brisk and engaging style, accompanied by fire effects and sound, the splendidly attired and bewigged Pepys and his fellow thespians took us through the days of the Great Fire, including Pepys’ observations from the top of All Hallows church tower and the plight of those fleeing the 13,000 homes, 87 churches and 44 Livery Halls destroyed. For better or for worse, many Livery Companies found themselves mentioned, resulting in plenty of lively, and at times raucous, audience participation.
 
Leaving aside several predictable references to the Bakers, examples included the Fuellers Company, formerly the Woodmongers, being chastised for leaving numerous stockpiles of combustible material around the City, adding to the inferno, and later King Charles ordering Pepys to keep a watchful eye on ‘those Tylers and Bricklayers’ during the rebuilding of London, to avoid profiteering. 
 
In a well-researched part of the final act, the Town Cryer, in tricorn hat and with hand bell ringing, proclaimed to Pepys and other survivors the roll call of Livery Halls saved and lost – following which the cast joined the guests in the Charter Gallery for a well-earned stirrup cup.
 

Photographs taken on the Thursday evening are available to view and purchase online at http://sharpphoto.co.uk/p883940980 

 
Credits
Last week’s dinner plays were a first for the Bakers Company in modern times, with several of our guests from other Companies remarking how very well Bakers Hall lends itself to use in the performing arts.
 
The Company’s three main objectives for the plays were (i) to support the City’s Great Fire 350 commemorations (ii) to show our Hall to potential hirers and (iii) to stage an enjoyable event for our own Livery. From the many verbal and written expressions of appreciation, all three were achieved.   
 
Many congratulations to all those involved – Liverymen, Hall staff, The Cook & The Butler, Tanners Wines and, of course, to the superb cast and support team of Steve and Hilary Newman, Steve DeVey, Kay Whittaker and Tony and Joyce Guy.
 
 
 
 
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