Writer: Timberlake Wertenbaker
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Reviewer: Jenny Antill
The Public Reviews Rating:
The production centres around Lieutenant Ralph Clarke who, after much uproar from his colleagues, puts on a play starring convicts at the penal colony in New South Wales, Australia in 1789. Max Stafford-Clark, Out of Joint’s artistic director, has done a stunning job with the direction of the piece. There is a serious underlying tone of course; a large number of the convicts are awaiting hanging for their crimes. But this is levelled out by the humour within the writing.
It is fascinating that the characters onstage are based on real life people. Although individual details may have been enhanced for dramatic purposes, the production is primarily based on fact and each character has their own unique personality and backstory. Although the acting company take a little while to find their feet, they are truly brilliant having clearly encompassed their characters; it is very evident that the actors have done their research. It is impossible to single any one of them out; it is a great ensemble piece.
The Old Rep Theatre in Birmingham suits the show very well. It is by no means a large scale production but very intricate and stylised. A fairly simple design by Tim Shortall is adaptable and multi-purpose. The actors work well with the set and transitions between scenes are swift and effective. This in partnership with Johanna Town’s lighting design looks beautiful. Andy Smith’s soundscapes are good but seem to cut out abruptly at times which seems slightly untidy.
This co-production by Octagon Theatre, Bolton and Out of Joint is very well executed. It is thought provoking and entertaining. I do worry that without an element of humour, it may lack substance but the balance works well for the production.
Runs until Saturday 29th September.
Picture: Robert Workman