Ten years after the original Royal Court production of Timberlake Wertenbaker's play, director Max Stafford-Clark celebrates the anniversary by reviving it with his Out Of Joint company; after its stint at the Young Vic, the show tours through until early December.
The play – adapted from Thomas Keneally's novel The Playmaker, recounting the first theatrical production on the continent of Australia – seems to have lost little of its power, as it argues forcefully for the redemptive power of art, even amid an atmosphere of brutality such as that of the Botany Bay penal colony. In Julian McGowan's design, a large suspended grille acts as everything from a lower deck of a transport ship to the Governor General's desk to the ceiling of the condemned cell.
Stephen Beresford makes a convincing journey as Lt Ralph Clark, directing several prisoners in a production of Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer; without ever shaking off his natural diffidence of manner, he exhibits progressively greater determination in the face of his martinet superior officer (Declan Conlon)'s implacable opposition. Sally Rogers is impressive as Liz Morden, whose death sentence for theft of food endangers the production but who is too obstinate to defend herself against the charges. Perhaps the greatest testimony to Wertenbaker's argument, though, begins with the programme's account of a visit the original company paid in 1988 to H.M.P. Wormwood Scrubs and culminates in the credits list where Joe White, one of the prisoners they met there, is revealed as this production's assistant director.
Written for The Stage.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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