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The tobacco-fuelled flirtations of a Queen and courtier by Lewes poet

Smoke gets in your eyes: Leann OKasi as Elizabeth I and Christopher Paddon as Sir Walter Raleigh

Smoke gets in your eyes: Leann OKasi as Elizabeth I and Christopher Paddon as Sir Walter Raleigh

A new play by acclaimed Lewes poet John Agard is embarking on a summer tour of Sussex.

Puff is a “satirical imagining” of Queen Elizabeth the First’s tobacco-fuelled flirtations with Sir Walter Raleigh.

The entertaining, fun and accessible play is written in verse and set in the Elizabethan age of enchantment with the wonders of the New World.

Among them was tobacco – even the Queen being introduced to the puffing habit by the dashing courtier and explorer Sir Walter.

But there is also a growing awareness of the black presence in England as shown by the famous edict to the Lord Mayor of London from Elizabeth herself, stating that there were “too many Blackamoors in the realm”.

It is perhaps fitting that Guyana-born John Agard, the 2012 recipient of the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry and only the second black poet to receive the honour, should turn his subversive wit to that iconic period of English history.

The play humorously engages with issues of contemporary relevance such as identity and diversity, for Ralegh himself was ridiculed by the nobility for having a broad Devon accent.

Puff, which was premiered at the National Portrait Gallery in London, will be performed at The Wish Tower, Eastbourne (July 1), The Ostrich Hotel, Robertsbridge (July 2), Hastings Museum and Art Gallery (July 3), Hailsham Pavilion (July 4) and the All Saints Centre, Lewes (July 5).

 

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