‘There are scenes ... that take the breath away’
I have ‘form’ with Ross McGregor and his Arrows and Traps Company. Over the years I have seen a number of their very skilled productions. In ‘Gentleman Jack’, presented at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, they don’t disappoint.
The play is based on a true story that utterly enthralls.
For my sins I had never heard of Anne Lister. In my childhood she would have been described as a woman ‘who batted for the other side’. Which is a fairly limited and stupid description of a person whose bravery in the face of much prejudice is greatly to be admired. Anne was born in 1791. In 1826 she inherited the 400 acre estate of Shibden Hall, a little way outside Halifax. The play then chronicles both her personal and professional vicissitudes.
McGregor has chosen to tell the story in a series of flash backs, which works well. (Although I did find the electronic signposting a little tedious. Once introduced to the characters we-the audience-knew exactly where we were.) The young Anne is played with tremendous vivacity by Lucy Ioannou. As a girl she takes a lover in ‘Tib’ Norcliffe (a fine piece of work from Laurel Marks) which was a fairly seminal experience. She then has a series of love affairs culminating in a great passion for Mariana Belcombe (a delightful and intelligent Beatrice Vincent). When Mariana throws her over for a rich man Anne is devastated. All of this history is recorded and documented in diaries that Anne kept throughout her life.
McGregor then shows us the more mature Anne (a dignified and assured Cornelia Baumann-although I would have liked a little more playfulness from this terribly accomplished actor) courting the wealthy Ann Walker. All the rather racy conjoinings are beautifully done. I particularly liked the use of Shakespeare’s ‘Let me to the marriage…etc’. This Sonnet is quite rightly lauded for its beauty. And within the play it brings about a pretty dramatic conclusion.
McGregor usefully lists in the programme notes an entry in the diaries “Three xxx’s better to her than to me’. The X’s, we are told, don’t represent kisses but mutual orgasms.
There are scenes within the play that take the breath away. One such is where the mature Anne goes walking with Ann Walker (a lovingly detailed performance from Hannah Victory). Without going into too much detail it involves a pistol and a tree. It’s beautifully done by all concerned.
Professionally both women triumph in the end. And certainly their victory over the sharp and ruthless Rawson (a chilling Toby Wynn-Davies-and anyone who lists himself as a ‘founder member of an itinerant troupe of quasi-Latvian fire breathing clowns’ deserves every accolade going) is enormously satisfying.
I hope McGregor won’t take this next remark amiss but ‘Gentleman Jack’ is not as ‘showy’ as other works he has written and directed for ‘Arrows and Traps’. It is a quietly meditative piece that is always intelligent, sensitive and profound.
I realise my editor will say of this review, ‘it’s too long Richard’. So suffice to say the sound design of Alistair Lax is superb; ditto the work of Ben Jacobs and Odin Corie.
If the rumour is true-and I never listen to gossip- that McGregor is off to pastures new it’s incredibly sad news for the theatrical world- much worse than that wretched Brexit story.
Photography: Davor Tovarlaza @ The Ocular Creative
GENTLEMAN JACK by Ross McGregor
Directed by Ross McGregor
Presented by Arrows and Traps
In Rep with ‘Shooting with Light’
Venue: Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
Box office: www.brockleyjack.co.uk or 0333 666 3366 (£1.50 fee for phone bookings only)
Dates: Gentleman Jack Tues 15 January to Sat 16 February 2019
Performances at 7.30pm (16+)
Shooting With Light Sat 19 January to Sat 16 February 2019
Performances at 7.30pm (14+)
(no performances Sunday, Monday)
Tickets: £16, £13 concessions
Reviewer Richard Braine is actor, director and playwright.
As an Actor he has worked extensively throughout the country including Chichester Festival Theatre, Manchester Royal Exchange, Birmingham Rep, and Stephen Joseph Theatre in Yorkshire. His Television and Film credits include: “Calendar Girls”, “Pride, Prejudice and Zombies”, “Finding Neverland”, “Bridget Jones”, “Suspicions of Mr Whicher”, “Mr Selfridge” and many years ago Gussie Fink-Nottle in “Jeeves and Wooster”. He has also filmed over 150 Commercials all over the world.
He has directed the European premiere of Sternheim/Martin “The Underpants” at The Old Red Lion Theatre and written three plays: “Being There with Sellers”, “Bedding Clay Jones” and “Sexing Alan Titchmarsh”.