by Daniel O’Brien music by Pat Whymark.

Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds on tour to 19th November 2011.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
Review Mark Courtice 12 October at Nuffield Theatre Southampton.

Long ride home.
There comes a point (usually at Grantham) on the journey North on the A1 when you ask if you’ll ever get there. Much the same occurs in Daniel O’Brien and Pat Whymark’s folk musical about Dick Turpin’s epic ride from London to York. The problem is that besides riding, Turpin basically did nothing but rob people (and one robbery is pretty much like another) so actually there’s not much happening that’s dramatic.

Recognising this, O’Brien casts the tale as a debate about the nature of fame and the mythologies that transform reality. So a life of robbery, murder and horse-rustling is used as a model for the two sides of an argument between truth and invention. It’s energetic and imaginative, but the problem is that the argument is not intrinsically dramatic either.

All of which is a shame, because a huge amount of talent and theatrical ingenuity has been chucked at this intractable source material. The language is rich and varied, the songs tuneful and redolent, and a company of five talented actor-musicians work very hard. They swarm over Dora Schweitzer’s set of scaffolding poles, which they bang for sound effects, and swing from when they need to hang, or be hanged.

The songs are folky and very well sung by a company who all play instruments. The characters, however, get lost in the doubling and trebling of parts, and it is difficult to make sense of the picaresque gallery of grotesques and villains. There are few to like, least of all Turpin. Indeed it’s the horse, Black Bess, that seems the most sympathetic (an almost literally indefatigable performance of great physical skill from Loren O’Dair).

Abigail Anderson’s production does its best too, playing the various robberies with witty theatricality and marshalling the resources like Mark Howland’s moody and accurate lighting to good effect in creating an 18-century world.

Dick Turpin: Jack Lord.
William Harrison Ainsworth: Julian Harries.
Thomas Kyll: Richard Pepper.
Richard Bayes: Morgan Philpott.
Black Bess: Loren O’Dair.
MC: Pat Whymark.

Director: Abigail Anderson.
Designer: Dora Schweitzer.
Lighting: Mark Howland.
Composer: Pat Whymark.
Movement: Kitty Winter.

2011-10-30 22:02:36

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