Bringing to life the daily toll of women working in a medieval kitchen is at the heart of a new play that depicts mounting tension as local inhabitants readied themselves for the 1471 Battle of Barnet.
Fog of War, written by Barnet student playwright James P Godwin, and to be performed by the Barnet Players, is to be one of the highlights of the celebrations this year to mark the 550th anniversary of Barnet’s role in the Wars of the Roses.
As there is little likelihood, because of lockdown restrictions, of being able to stage the play at the Bull Theatre on the battle’s anniversary date of 14 April, as originally planned, the Barnet Players hope to arrange dates in September and, if possible, hold an outdoor summer performance.
Rather than focussing on the reasons and repercussions of this historic clash between the Lancastrian and Yorkist armies, James wants to explore the impact of the looming battle and its aftermath on medieval life in Barnet.
(Keith West’s oil painting of the Battle of Barnet, donated to Barnet Museum in 2019, depicts the victorious King Edward IV being presented with proof of the death of both Warwick the Kingmaker and his brother Lord Montagu.)
The challenge facing James as a budding playwright is to create a setting and a script suitable for an amateur dramatic group, so he has devised a story line with parts for eight women and seven men.
Much of the action takes place in the kitchen of a medieval beguine, a women-only community, which he has placed next to the hermitage that later became Old Fold Manor at Monken Hadley, close to what is believed to be site of the former battlefield.
The women of the beguine, fearful that victorious soldiers will pillage their house, prepare themselves for the imminent battle and probable repercussions for the local community.
They bake extra bread for the troops and embroider coats of arms of the competing forces in the hope they can be considered the allies of whichever army prevails.
James (21), who is completing a three-year creative writing course at Bath Spa University, is the son of the Players’ director and producer, Siobhan Dunne, who produced the group’s first-ever production, Love and War, which had its first performance in 2018.
Ms Dunne said that when Barnet Museum commissioned a play to celebrate the battle’s anniversary, she gave her son a “pretty tight remit” to write a script suitable for amateur dramatics.
He hopes that his first draft of the play -- which has become his final year project -- will be completed shortly and available for its first read through by the group.
At the start of his creative writing course, James was concentrating on prose and poetry but that morphed into script writing as he became increasingly interested in theatrical techniques.
“As a child I was taken to countless performances by mother, so I have always been interested in the theatre and as I have grown older, I think I have become quite astute in predicting the story lines of plays and films, so I have really enjoyed the challenge of script writing.
“Fog of War has become the creative enterprise module for my final year, and I have been so lucky to be able to develop a project that revolves around the history of Barnet and might help celebrate a really important anniversary.”
(Medieval artist Graham Turner, who unveiled his painting of the Battle of Barnet at the 2019 Barnet Medieval Festival, captures the brutality of medieval warfare at the height of the battle fought on a foggy Easter Sunday, 14 April 1471.)
In thinking through the story line and script for his play, James had to immerse himself in the history of the Battle of Barnet and by placing the beguine near Old Fold Manor he has been able to take full advantage of the closeness of the battlefield site, assumed to be around Kitts End Lane.
An opening scene involves the ghostly appearance of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, whose lands included the original hermitage at Monken Hadley.
As a chronicler from an earlier age, de Mandeville asks the audience if they think good leaders must be ruthless – a pointed introduction to Edward IV who secured the throne after the Yorkists defeated the Lancastrians, led by the Earl of Warwick, who wanted Henry VI to be king.
“I didn’t want the play to focus simply on the Wars of the Roses, on the kings and the nobility, about whom so much has been written.
“So, Fog of War recreates the life of these self-sufficient women living in beguine, who grew and sold their own crops, and who worked in their kitchen, right next to Old Fold Manor.
“We see them preparing to hold off the victorious soldiers, fearful their beguine will be pillaged, so they erect make-shift barriers, bake extra bread and embroider coats of arms so that they can hang them outside depending on who wins the battle.
“The women commune with spirits to predict how the fight will unfold. One woman, a tarot reader and pagan practitioner, decides she must summon a deep mist to protect their home.
“But all is not what is seems when the fog of war rolls in...”
(Medieval kitchen courtesy Ideal Home US)