Thursday, 2 October 2014

Theatre review: Pitcairn

In his most recent play Great Britain a couple of months ago, Richard Bean gave the Queen a line about "looking forward to our visit to the Pitcairn islands." So Bean's critics can add product placement to his list of crimes as Pitcairn is in fact the title of his next project, a production from Max Stafford-Clark's Out of Joint with Shakespeare's Globe, where it lands as part of its tour. The last war play in the Globe's 2014 season comes with the depressing message that a civil war can break out even in a nation that consists of a couple of dozen people. These are the former mutineers of the Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian (Tom Morely,) who after stopping off in Tahiti to pick up wives and convince a couple of local men to join them as well, have sailed to the uninhabited island of Pitcairn, where they hope to build a Utopian society - and hide from the Royal Navy who'd quite like to hang them all.

Christian has plans for a democratic society, but problems arise very quickly as the other men, especially the rebellious Quintal (Samuel Edward-Cook) and McKoy (Henry Pettigrew,) aren't happy to have the Tahitian men treated as their equals.

The women, of course, are not for a second considered for inclusion in the division of power and land; a decision the men may come to regret as first they scrap among themselves over who gets which wife, and the women in turn tire of being pawns in the men's power struggle and take matters into their own hands. One of the most interesting things about Pitcairn for me is its treatment of class, as it's not just the British who bring their class system with them: The Tahitians have their own aristocracy, from which Christian's wife Mi Mitti (Siubhan Harrison) comes, and which Ned Young (Ash Hunter) uses to try and sow discord with her husband. Trying to create a democracy out of two intricately layered class systems seems to be one of the biggest causes of everything that goes wrong.

The story is narrated by two of the Tahitians who've joined the sailors, Hiti (Eben Figueiredo) and Mata (Cassie Layton) providing an innocent voice of enthusiasm among all the power play and ambition. With the production designed to play a number of different theatres, it's tricky to get the kind of audience interaction usual at the Globe but although many of the attempts fall flat, Bean and Stafford-Clark do make a good fist of it - even pushing the boundaries more than I've seen before: Pettigrew may get the traditional moment of spitting his drink over the groundlings, but Edward-Cook actually running off with one of them over his shoulder is a new one to me.

Bean's better at one-liners than he is at characters, so it's not particularly easy to care what happens to the largely unpleasant bunch - and Morely has a very monotonous delivery which doesn't help matters. Hiti's narration describes good days as Life and bad days as History, and this is a history play, so we get a slightly disjointed view of the significant events in Pitcairn's history without much idea of the life they were trying to build there. Interesting in parts, but not quite satisfying as a whole.

Pitcairn by Richard Bean is booking in repertory until the 10th of October at Shakespeare's Globe; then continuing on tour to Plymouth, Warwick, Guildford, Eastbourn, Oxford and Malvern.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

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