Pitcairn – theatre review

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Anne Cox offers her verdict on Pitcairn, which is at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, then touring

pitcairn

Most people know the story of how Fletcher Christian led a mutiny aboard the Bounty and fetched up on Pitcairn, an uninhabited scrap of land in the middle of the South Pacific. But what happened next?

There have been stories making headlines in recent years about sex scandals and the MODERN demise of this tiny outpost that measures less than one mile by two. But playwright Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors) has come up with a drama exploring the fate of Christian and his mutineers immediately after they took control of HMS Bounty.

Pitcairn, which opened at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre last night as part of the venue’s Hidden Histories season, is a game attempt to expose the truth about what happened to the Bounty men and their Tahitian captives. What let it down was a collection of variable accents, dialogue that ranged from the likely to the unimaginable, and an idealised, glamorous, version of the native women who were dressed in their best designer island wear, lipstick, and body art.

Max Stafford-Clark’s co-production with Chichester, his Out Of Joint company, and Shakespeare’s Globe, is interesting but only, occasionally, enthralling.

Bean’s story starts 20 years after the event when sailors arrive on Pitcairn to discover that there is just one man and a gaggle of women still alive. It had all started so promisingly back in 1789 when Christian put the feared Captain William Bligh to sea and steered the Bounty through seemingly uncharted waters until they came upon Pitcairn.

“We have everything we need,” announced the young, idealistic Christian. The island was fertile and teeming with wildlife. But Paradise for the group of six white men, three natives and a collection of Tahitian women, was short lived with treachery, betrayal, rape and murder destroying any lasting peace.

There’s a Lord Of The Flies element to the story in that pretty much everyone, including the women, turn to savages when confronted with the claustrophobia and isolation of the island. Samuel Edward-Cook gives an outstanding performance as Quintal, the renegade and brutish seaman. He convinces as the original scurvy, sex-obsessed, press-ganged sailor who is branded a wild dog after running amok with a belly full of rot gut hooch and raping Christian’s native wife.

pitcairn

Tom Morley’s Fletcher Christian (above) initially comes across as rather naive but the playwright eventually provides him with a backbone that allows a surprising wiliness. His number two, Ned Young (Ash Hunter looking every inch an officer and a gentleman) behaves dishonourably, as you’d expect from well brought up gentry.

It should be noted that there’s a guidance that the play is suitable for the over-16s. There is lot of talk about sex – which, apparently, is the favourite past-time of the Polynesians – and considerable earthy language, but it stops short of nudity (unless you count a quick glimpse of Quintal’s tattooed buttocks).

And, talking of conversation, several audience members were shocked to find themselves being drawn into the performance as the two narrators, natives Hiti (Eben Figueiredo) and Mata (Cassie Layton) asked them direct questions.

You don’t want to make a fool of yourself in front of a packed theatre but it proved embarrassing and quite unnerving for some among the largely elderly front rows. There’s an interesting twist in the tale but, after two hours, I longed for the open seas.

Pitcairn is running until September 20 and then touring; more info

Pitcairn tour dates:

September 22-October 11, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London
October 14-18, Theatre Royal, Plymouth
October 21-24, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry
October 28- November 1, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
November 4-8, Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne
November 11-15, Oxford Playhouse
November 18-22, Malvern Theatres, Malvern

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Anne is a freelance regional theatre critic with a 'patch' stretching from the RSC in Stratford, through the Home Counties and London to Chichester

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