Gunpowder Theatre’s Days of the Commune, directed by Genevieve Girling, gets the White Bear’s Revolution, Reaction and Reform season off to a decisive and dramatic start.
Chronicling, in typical Brechtian episodic mode, the few months of the rise and fall of the 1871 Commune in Paris, when those who had fought against the Prussians staged a worker’s revolution, only to be betrayed and suppressed by their government, the play shows, in docudrama style, what was seen as a model for Communism.
The simple set, with the studio walls painted to show Paris under siege, replete with posters and manifestos, provides an ideal backdrop, whilst the chalking up of place and date on a blackened wall serves to take the audience through time and space.
Most of the cast handle the range of characters well, though some of the younger lads lack clear enunciation, and there are some excellent and engaging performances from the young girls. Paul Easom, in a range of roles and Gary Heron as Papa Goule give their characters depth and vivacity whilst there are an electrifying set of performances from Steve Wickenden in a number of roles, most notably that of Thiers, the newly appointed leader of the French government; he has a mesmerising stage presence, superb voice and is a name to look out for.
The costumes have clearly been well researched but those of the rebels, the people’s revolutionary force, all look as if they have just been bought for a ceremonial occasion, not well worn and battled scarred, having seen combat for days and weeks out in the muddy streets and surrounds of Paris!
The attempt at atmospheric lighting is at times a little too dark and misdirected, with too much light aimed at the audience. And the soundscape and music are at odds with the time and place, a rather pathetic drum beat to signify the revolutionaries, rushing train sounds for Gare de Lyon, rather than hissing of steam, whistles and doors banging and what sounds like a modern jazz score for the Commune scenes, all of which are often too loud and drown out conversations that accompany them.
However, as this was only the second night, no doubt these inconsistencies can be ironed out to enhance what is a well directed and unique performance of a piece of theatrical history, a rarely seen play that deserves a good run.