Bonny and Read. Book & Lyrics Claire Novello. Music by Frederick Appleby. Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London SE4 to 4 December 2021. 3***. William Russell.

The story of two dames at sea, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, is full of surprises. By various accidents, brutal husbands to escape from among them, both ended up as pirates sailing the Carribean with Calico Jack Rackham dressed as men – the play covers the years 1710-20 – and when he and his fellows ended up on the gallows they escaped the same fate being pregnant. It would have only been a delay but Mary died in childbirth before it could take place, while Anne somehow or other escaped the rope and in this version ends up dying in 1782 at a ripe old age in Charlestown, South Carolina, having had five more children.
Novello and Appleby have come up with an odd piece, partly a musical, partly a play written in verse with some truly amazing rhymes. One can only admire a script which rhymes Jamaica with forsake’r and there are worse or better depending on your point of view. Appleby’s melodies are fine, although not all are ideally placed and every now and then one feels they should have inserted one more song. The show needs stronger songs to open and close with but as a way of passing a chill November evening it works well, has a clever set designed by Victoria Maytom and Director Kenneth Michaels keeps the action moving briskly along. It also helps that Bonny (Eliza Shea) and Read (Justine Marie Mead) have good voices. Duncan Drury makes a fine swarthy Jack, who patently was none too clever, and Mark Nicolson has a rewarding time narrating the tale of these ladies in trousers as well as playing pretty well everybody else.
It seems that neither woman disguised their sex as pirates and dressed as men when fighting at which they appear to have been rather good. The world of the sea was governed by rules all its own and Bonny and Read were not the only women who took to sailing under the black flag. Their career ended after Jack and his crew, having apparently had a good day acquiring treasure, got very drunk and were captured by the British. Bonny subsequently told Jack off in no uncertain terms. “I’m sorry to see you here but if you had fought like a man then you need not have been hanged like a dog,” were apparently her parting words to him.
Her story has been filmed several times with suitable additions to fit the views of the day and this one too has some embroidery of the facts for the sake of the drama were are told. I am not going to dismiss it as a work in progress – it is more than that – but tweaked here and there it would have got that fourth star but, stars or not, it makes a good night out.

Mary Read: Justine Marie Mead.
Anne Bonny: Eliza Shea.
Calico Jack: Duncan Drury.
Narrator: Mark Nicolson.

Director: Kenneth Michaels.
Musical Director: Frederick Appleby.
Lighting Design: Edmund Sutton.
Set & Costume Design: Victoria Maytom.
Sound Design: Terry Perkins.
Production photography: Paddy Gormley.
Clarinet: Jonathan Willett.
Flute: Vicky Yuan-Labarra.

ReviewsGate Copyright Protection