The decision by director Rupert Goold to stage a play by the rarely revived Edward Bond as his first for Headlong, formerly the Oxford Stage Company, is a statement of intent and, following his startling take on The Tempest, currently to be seen at the RSC, one looks forward keenly to what will follow.
Bond has said that for him, theatre is about justice and here he uses what is too often the vehicle for banal, trousers-round-the ankles shenanigans as the means of savaging the ruling classes and their cupidity, cruelty and amorality.
Restoration conventionally pits husband against wife, town against country, commerce versus ‘old money’ now on its uppers, but amid broad brushstrokes the play explores a complex web of class relationships. Towering among the characters, however, is the monstrous figure of Lord Are, who accidentally stabs his wife, dressed, at the time, as a ghost, and then pins the blame on his servant.
Mark Lockyer has enormous fun as Are, how could he not, given lines like: “Bob, throw the toast to the hens on your way to prison”. There is also a fine turn by Beverley Klein as his equally monstrous mother. Among the rest of the ensemble I also particularly enjoyed Robert East, excellent as both Hardache, the hard nosed entrepreneur, and the Parson, and Michael Shaeffer as Frank.
The sets by designer Colin Richmond, which move from English pastoral to a forest of prison bars, are also impressively atmospheric. I was less charmed by the songs, set to music by composer Adam Cork which punctuate the play and which echo Michael Nyman or early Divine Comedy, though without the tunes. This production includes two new songs, one clearly inspired by 9/11.
As the play heads towards its inevitable conclusion, the mood darkens and Bond strips away the mask to reveal the savagery at the heart of his vision. I wasn’t convinced at the last that I had seen a masterpiece, but Bond is clearly a writer who still has much to say to us in our troubled times.
- Pete Wood (reviewed at Bristol Old Vic)