David Edgar’s adaptation of Julian Barnes novel is an appropriate choice for Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company due to its narrative routes in the surrounding region, such as Birmingham itself, Walsall and Coventry. This familiarity between audience and location is a useful tool when telling a mystery story, enabling the spectator to imagine the story in familiar surroundings; even if the action is set in the early 20th century.
Telling the tale of the falsely accused George Edalji (Chris Nayak) , the story follows his companionship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Adrian Lukis) who is intent on proving Edalji’s innocence. Not being familiar with Barnes novel myself, the mystery proves to be an interesting piece of entertainment which not only tells its tale but also enables the exposure of the protagonist’s central characteristics.
Whilst the pattern of events remains engaging in the first half of the performance, the second begins to run circles around itself, taking what feels to be a substantial amount of time before reaching its conclusion.
The “Britishness” of the piece is very much reinforced through the ensembles performances and there is a commendable effort in regards to the productions casting. Sometimes the upper class English attitudes displayed on stage create a repetitive delivery of dialogue which seems to maintain a constant and predictable pace, much like the rattles of a steam train over its tracks.
Despite the by-gone period in which the action is set, modern themes such as discrimination and marginalisation play a major role in the development of the narrative thus giving a contemporary audience the opportunity to discover modern themes in a production set over a hundred years ago. This maintains the stories relevance and the opportunity to connect with its spectators.
The design of the piece is stirringly atmospheric, especially in regards to Tim Mitchell’s lighting design which edges on perfection in conveying location and atmosphere whilst maintaining practicality.
Arthur and George is a play set within a by-gone time with a modern core; especially considering that Edalji’s case set the way for the current Court of Criminal Appeal.