The Trip to Jerusalem

Written by Edward Marston
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

In Elizabethan London, theatre is booming. But then come rumours of plague, and Lord Westfield’s Men theatre company must seek new audiences in the country until the danger is past. There should be no problem; as a top quality acting troupe, they will be surely welcomed in the various towns and country houses they plan to visit. Things, however, do not go according to plan. Their play-scripts disappear and a rival acting company ahead of them on the road is stealing not only their audiences, but performing their missing plays. Then a key player disappears. These are dangerous times; the queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, has reason to believe that Catholic lords are plotting to overthrow the queen. When the miniature painter, Oliver Quilley, joins the company for protection, few question his business. But is he all he seems? And what of another fellow-traveller, the beautiful Eleanor, who claims to have spoken to God? As the disasters mount up, Nicholas Bracewell, the company’s book-holder, has his work cut out to keep the show on the road. But will he be able to solve the mystery before they reach their destination, the Trip to Jerusalem inn in York?

This well-researched book offers a lively glimpse into a vibrant age: the mud and filth of 16th century travel, the glories of the stately homes the troupe play in, and the hurly-burly of life with a travelling theatre company. It all rings very true. There are some splendid, almost farcical scenes where the troupe’s devastatingly attractive and charismatic leader, Laurence Firethorn, tries to juggle the unexpected arrival of his wife (whom he’d left in London), his buxom mistress, and the saintly Eleanor whose chastity he’d like to storm. I’m sure that Edward Marston’s fans will be thrilled to see this old favourite from 1990 re-issued.