Review: A Night with the Knight of the Burning Pestle by Julia Bozza

A Night with the Knight of the Burning Pestle

Technically, this curious and charming book is A Night with the Knight of the Burning Pestle: Full of Mirth and Delight by Francis Beaumont and Julie Bozza. Beaumont wrote the original 1607 play-within-a-play that forms the central part of the story. Julie Bozza has added another layer of metatextual storytelling with the relationship between two of the play’s performers, Dale and Topher.

The Knight of the Burning Pestle was an unusual play in its time: performed once only in 1607, published in 1613, it’s a satire on chivalric romances of the time and considers the fourth wall as less than the dust beneath its feet.

First, to precis the Beaumont play: a group of actors are putting on a romance called The London Merchant. To the surprise (I expect) of all the punters, two audience members – a grocer and his wife – complain loudly about the representation of the middle classes. The grocer sends his apprentice, Rafe, onstage to show what the middle classes are made of. Rafe is dubbed the Knight of the Burning Pestle and seems not to notice that it’s not kindly meant. His antics keep bursting in on the plot of The London Merchant until it tangles up with that story.

A Night with the Knight of the Burning Pestle swirls another layer into the parfait with a behind-the-scenes love story. Dale, who plays Rafe, and Topher, who plays Jasper, had a one night stand in the past. Anything more didn’t gel with Dale’s grand Life Plan. Now, on the last night of the play’s run, Topher wants Dale to reignite their connection and see there’s something worth sharing for the long term.

Dale resists – it doesn’t fit with the plan – and over the course of the night, their relationship clashes and transforms as this 17th century satire offers some meaning to their 21st century lives.

1613 cover

A reader might fear that the layers of story – actors playing actors in The London Merchant interacting as actor/character with audience members playing Rafe and his sidekicks – will render the whole too muddled to follow.

Fear not, reader. You’re in good hands with Julie Bozza. She’s always been a skilled storyteller with a grasp of the complex, and her knowledge of and affection for theatre and for the Beaumont play are clear (she acknowledges several influential productions).

She handles each layer of the story with clarity, delicacy and warmth, allowing the crossovers of relationships, themes and centuries room to develop without ever overwhelming you.

2017 Paperback cover

The Dale/Topher romance underpins the story rather than being the whole focus – there’s as much joy to be had in how the play actually unfolds as with these two lads getting their romantic act together – but that feels rightly balanced with what also feels like a love letter to an obscure play that was a failure for its playwright at the time. I do hope Francis Beaumont knows, somewhere, that Julia Bozza loves him. And at the end of this book, so do I!

A Night with the Knight of the Burning Pestle is an ebook release of the 2017 paperback and can be found at: