by Ben Ellis.
Finborough Theatre above the Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 22 November 2010.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk (reduced full-priced tickets online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 November.
Dangerous certainties and misunderstanding clearly laid-out.
This is next door to incredible: a full-length, complex play, from London-based Australian Ben Ellis, performed at a high standard on a small stage set-up for another show. John Kachoyan’s production inventively accommodates Ellis’s story, which stretches across miles of Australian coast, on a stage designed for Noah Haidle’s Saturn Returns.
The Captive imaginatively re-creates events in the writer’s home territory of Gippsland, Victoria in the 1840s when Gipps was governor (a smoothly political Anthony Houghton, doubling briefly as a rabble-rousing newspaper editor). There, Scotsman Angus Mitchell (the intense Gareth Glen) is sent on an expedition to rescue a white woman apparently kidnapped by native Australians.
Mitchell is asked about his un-Scots-sounding name. Names, language and cultural misreadings are central to this engrossing drama. A lot of trouble – most of the play, in fact- could have been saved if Mitchell had been a Scottish Catholic, rather than Protestant. Refusal to let a search-party member who speaks the native language use such a ‘savage’ tongue lest it turn him savage, is part of a strict Christian ethic that brings death as well as confusion.
Then there are the two women. While the men occupy a strictly realistic plane, with the intensity and loneliness of their long search having believable psychological effects, both the women mix realistic and imaginary moments. Rachel Waring, as Angus Mitchell’s wife, is a real person, but appears also in his imagination during their separation. And Lucy Conway’s clumsy servant to Governor Gipps is doubled with the fantasy figure of the White Woman, an idealised imagining of the supposed captive.
By the end the futility and fatality of actions based on cultural misunderstandings, plus the spin put on events for consumption back home, show how a restrictive over-certainty contrasts the promptings of a wider sense of humanity. Things can go different ways; towards extremism, with one of Mitchell’s companion McInnes, or good sense, as with the other, Ross (Scott Ainslie, particularly impressive in a speech where he composes the impact of events in his mind), especially when days of endurance issue in moments of nail-biting, trigger-finger tension.
Heather Mitchell: Rachel Waring.
Jock McInnes: James Marlowe.
Angus Mitchell: Gareth Glen.
Jimmy/Pendathuy: Rob Gilbert.
William Ross: Scott Ainslie.
White Woman/Servantwoman: Lucy Conway.
Editor Logan/Governor Gipps: Anthony Houghton.
Director: John Kachoyan.
Designer: Rachael Vaughan.
Lighting: Christopher Nairne.
Sound/Music: George Dennis.
Costume: Susannah Lombardelli.