ARTHUR AND GEORGE: David Edgar, based on the novel by Julian Barnes
Birmingham Rep Theatre: 19 March – 10 April
Review: Rod Dungate 23.03.2010
A tale well worth the telling.
ARTHUR AND GEORGE is more interesting than it is engaging, and once the story kicks in, you’re certainly hooked. Actually, you’re hooked by a host of lovely performances too.
A playwright working in the theatre can, for the most part, afford a slow burn opening – something not really available to screenplays. This play has just such a slow burn; seemingly disjointed conversations between two men and between two women . . . we may assume the men are Arthur and George, but don’t really know much else. But their conversations are intriguing . . . we are willing to be teased, to be tickled, if I can extend the fishing metaphor.
What unfolds is a terrible story of racial prejudice. George Edaji was the son of an Indian Christian vicar in Great Wyrley, near Cannock in Staffordshire towards the end of the 19th Century. There was a series of mysterious poison pen letters and animal mutilations and George (a practising solicitor) was accused of the crimes and sent to prison. Arthur Conan Doyle became involved in proving George’s innocence and obtaining for him his pardon. Julian Barnes sets out the story with added imaginings in his book.
Barnes’s book weaves many threads together as he tells his story; this tone is reflected in David Edgar’s adaptation. Rachel Kavanaugh, who directs, also picks up on this, so the production has great pace, though feels, at times, a little flat. Ruari Murchison’s set, using revolves, aids the sense of movement, and at times, the whole form of the production feels like a metaphor for the intertwining threads of intrigue that entrapped George. I found Murchison’s black setting too unrelenting, though, and it leaves the play’s world disturbingly unplaced.
This is a terrific cast. Adrian Lukis’s, not quite larger than life, Arthur grabs you by the throat and refuses to let you go. Against this big performance, Chris Nayak’s George is completely human; he’s so full of energy that you think he might explode, but the energy is tied, somehow, to a directness, a trust, to a certain naivete. It’s a lovely performance to watch and a heartbreaking one to empathise with.
Richard Attlee: Doorman, Campbell, Butter, Greatorex, Stoker
William Beck: Woodie
Simon Coates: Upton, Vachell, Anson, Parker
Daniel Crowder: Waiter, Meek, Bellboy, Wynn, Stationmaster, Jerome
Kirsty Hoiles: Jean
Adrian Lukis: Arthur
Chris Nayak: George
Anneika Rose: Maud
Director: Rachel Kavanaugh
Designer: Ruari Murchison
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Composer: Terry Davies
Projection and Video Designer: Barret Hodgson
Sound Designer: Dan Hoole
Dialect Coach: Charmian Hoare
Casting Director: Lucy Jenkins
Assistant Director: Robert Cameron