SO GREAT A CRIME
by David Gooderson.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 22 January 2013.
Sun-Mon 7.30pm Mat Tue 2pm.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr).
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk (no booking fee by ‘phone or online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 January.
Soldier of the Queen gets it in the neck from society in intriguing drama.
Here’s an interesting puzzle, served up with structural awkwardness and narrative interest, combining historical reconstruction and speculation, by writer/director David Gooderson.
The opening grabs attention. In 1903 four soldiers accompany a coffin on a London-Edinburgh train. Their watch suggests some important body; yet it is being transported secretly in a plain-wood coffin with only the initials H.A.M. as identification, for early morning burial.
Neither they nor we understand why. But as they speculate while playing cards on the coffin, it becomes vital they do know, to act-out events. It’s an unconvincing device, though a production with more theatrical resources might gloss-over the implausibilities.
Yet by the time the story of Hector Macdonald has reached Ceylon, the dramatic superstructure largely giving way to straightforward narrative, the intimacy, directness – and experienced cast – benefit the production.
Macdonald – Stuart McGugan expertly catches his fatal mix of courage and anxiety – was a double outsider. A brilliant working-class soldier, he single-handedly turned defeat to victory in Sudan, as Gooderson shows with precision and concision. And a Scot; rated on a par with the Australians set-up during the same era in George Witton’s Scapegoats of the Empire (filmed as Breaker Morant).
Having no private income, and officer life being expensive, Macdonald sought a senior post in Ceylon where local society conspired against “the crofter” (an insult combining class and race) with charges of sexual immorality involving boys. Their shabby behaviour was exceeded by army commander Lord Roberts, who contrived a court-martial because Ceylon did not outlaw homosexuality.
Only the bank-clerk he’d befriended stuck by him, refusing to let his sons be used to fabricate evidence; so bribery was used to prop-up another, transparently flimsy, allegation. The theme of the outsider betrayed and loyalty only existing where least trumpeted bears repeating, especially with Gooderson’s fascinatingly individual angle and skilful revelation of information.
It would be interesting to know how much is documented fact and how much invented by Gooderson – official papers about the affair unofficially disappeared. If the first part’s structural matters could be sorted there would be an even stronger case for a revival, or adaptation.
Joe/Governor of Ceylon/T P O’Connor/Bill Riley: James Woolley.
HP/Hugh Phipps/Head Waiter: Philip York.
Nev/Reverend Neville Bayliss/Sergeant: Louie Bayliss.
Bob/Lord Roberts/French Waiter: Hayward Morse.
Hector Macdonald: Stuart McGugan.
Boy/Vikram de Saram/Rajiv: Lyndam Gregory.
Lady Ridgeway/Cristina Macdonald: Elizabeth Counsell.
Director: David Gooderson.
Designer: Alex Marker.
Lighting: Chris Withers.
Sound: Max Pappenheim.