adapted from Herman Melville’s novel.
Southwark Playhouse (The Little) 77-85 Newington Causeway SR1 6BD To 10 August 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 030 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 July.
Compact, and suitably claustrophobic production catches a fir measure of Melville’s novel.
If you want your work to provoke controversy, leave it unfinished. As Herman Melville did with Billy Budd, its confused manuscript only discovered years after his death. Its most famous adaptation, Benjamin Britten’s superb opera, was among the versions seen a decade before an authoritative text of the novel was published in 1962.
Secret/heart’s production fires full on two cylinders. Charlie Archer’s Billy, commandeered from a merchant ship to fight the French in 1797, is introduced as a person who naturally brings harmony. The script’s over-insistent on the symbolic importance of his former ship being ‘The Rights o’ Man’, the very thing he loses under navy discipline aboard the ‘Indomitable’, but Archer unassertively shows Billy’s innocence bringing out the best in others, with combined moral and physical beauty.
Except for the Indomitable’s Master-at-Arms, John Claggart, most dangerous when seeming most friendly, setting traps for those he takes against,while hiding his impulse to cruelty and destruction from the ship’s Captain Edward Vere.
Gerrard McArthur’s quiet, sinister Claggart almost mellows in Billy’s presence, until the young sailor returns him his baton of office, reminding Claggart of his authority and provoking his psychological need to destroy goodness. References to Billy’s good looks suggest a sexual motive, but McArthur, and Seb Harcombe’s production, wisely don’t focus the combat of innocence and destruction on this.
Claggart’s older than the other sailors; the sense of beating-down those who might overtake him, and behaviour that lies outside anything he can achieve in his own meanness, emerges forcefully.
Between these poles lies Vere; it’s hard for anyone who knows Britten’s opera to remove the image of the older Captain haunted by guilt in the slow, swaying music framing the action there.
Here, the anguish is more sharply presented, Luke Courtier’s Vere raging at the start, removing his blindfold at the end. Between, Vere rages but Courtier and the production, allow little definition of his inner conflict.
There are other good performances, while Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s set creates the cramped length of a ship, its cold metal removing it from the period, reflecting this as a story for all humanity.
Captain Vere: Luke Courtier.
Nurse/Pavel: Joel Gorf.
Lieutenant Ratcliffe: Oliver King.
Shipmaster/O Daniel: Christopher Hammond.
Billy Budd: Charlie Archer.
Jackson/Squeak: Hugo Bolton.
Jenkins: Iain Batchelor.
Claggart: Gerrard McArthur.
Talbot: Jonathan Leinmuller.
Director: Seb Harcombe.
Designer: Nicolai Hart-Hansen.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: James Reader.
Music advisor: Sophie Grimmer.
Assistant director: Natasha Molchanova.