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Charlie Peace (Coventry)

Alexandra Taylor reviews this Belgrade production, declaring it a veritable feast of Victorian villainy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Charlie Peace
© Robert Day

This musical melodrama takes its audience on a riotous journey through the criminal exploits of real life Victorian villain Charlie Peace. A travelling company of performers has pitched up in the town square and the theatre audience are the townsfolk, gathering to witness the spectacle.

Norman Pace is a commanding Showman, presenting the performance with confidence and engaging the audience with jovial humour. Peter Duncan puts in a powerful performance as Charlie Peace, imbuing the character with enough charismatic charm to make up for his womanising, thieving and murderous ways. The rest of the talented cast bring a range of Victorian archetypes to life - a vicar, policemen, a brothel madam, a music hall singer - moving seamlessly between the various roles.

Projection is cleverly used to transform the stage from street scene to interior, shabby terrace to elegant mansion, court room to train carriage. The action takes place across a dizzying range of cities and settings, painting a broad picture of nineteenth-century Britain and turning the audience from onlookers at the travelling show to music hall attendees, Sunday service congregation to party guests, courtroom jury to spectators at a hanging.

What lets the piece down is that it is overlong, and could do with some judicious cuts to the script, particularly in the second half where the pace sags a little. But it's the music that keeps it moving. All performed live by the cast, the songs borrow melodies from music hall, church hymns and folk tunes to create a soundscape that feels authentically Victorian yet also fresh and contemporary.

Anyone who enjoys a bit of vintage villainy could do a lot worse than spend an evening in the deviously delightful company of Charlie Peace.

- Alexandra Taylor