Modern day television and cinema enjoys crime thrillers as staple fare. Local author David Edgar has produced a stage play which taps into that contemporary interest whilst looking backwards a century to the story of George Edalji. Edalji was born of an Indian father and a Scottish mother, growing up to become a Birmingham solicitor and living in Great Wyrley. He was also a victim of a miscarriage of justice which helped to create the present day Court of Appeal system. George and Edward has previously toured professionally, and played at the Birmingham Rep, but this is the first time that an amateur license has been granted.
Sutton Arts Theatre were wise to choose this play. Its local setting, references, and accents have obvious interest, as do the themes of multi-culture and race. Adapted from the eponymous book a semi fictional novel by Julian Barnes ,it cleverly juxtaposes issues which resonate now, in an historic setting which seems familiar, so popular is the Victorian period in general, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Arthur to Edalji’s George.
Patrick Richmond-Ward assumed the onerous responsibility of directing this production as well as playing the part of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a performance of great authority. Doyle drives the plot on stage. Richmond-Ward also used his acting presence as a conductor to an orchestra, varying the pace and tempo as required. Opposite him Niko Adilypour brought the challenging character of Edward Edalji to life. Edalji is a wronged man, yet has an unshakeable faith in the Legal System, even when it has betrayed him. There are no rants or crie de coeurs, instead angst and hand wringing.It is a nuanced role which Adilypour tackled well.
Three actors bravely took on twelve minor parts to considerable effect. Amongst them, Adam Worton played Mr Greatorex, working in a saddlers in the best cameo scene of the night when he is interviewed about his part in the crime as he meticulously polished a saddle. Two larger than life parts, that of a barrister and pompous army colonel, were custom made for Richard Aucott who clearly enjoyed playing the parts as much as the audience enjoyed seeing him romp through them. Tomos Frater’s feat was to appear unrecognisable as he confidently switched between his four roles.
Period drama is always welcomed by the female casts of Drama Societies as offering an opportunity to dress up in big dresses with lavish accessories. Arthur and George only has two female parts, that of Doyle’s consort, Jean Leckie ,( Elena Serafinas ),and Edalji’s sister Maud, ( Lin Menh Tran), but both revelled in the costuming offered. Elena Serefinas moved Leckie on nicely from frustrated consort to wife, making the most of the comic lines, whilst Lin Menh Tran’s striking beauty neatly offset the geeky awkward persona of her brother. Dexter Whitehead, as Woodie, Doyle’s faithful servant had the best comic lines of the night and was understated, but effective to his master’s huster and bluster.
Richmond-Ward’s production had a fine sense of time and place with a projected screen backdrop well used for location and a fierce smoke machine particularly effective for creating railways scenes. The Great Wyrley Outrages , as they were known, involved the mutilation of livestock and a threat to young girls in the area, the sense of shock and fear was well recreated as was the ignorant racism of the time. “Seeing” as metaphor is the thread which links the play together. The physically short sighted Edalji cannot see the prejudice around him, Doyle cannot see that his consort should be his wife, the legal system and its officers cannot see that Edlaji is innocent, and at the end, Edalji has to stand on a chair because he cannot see the wedding party.
Arthur and George runs at the Sutton Arts Theatre, South Parade Sutton Coldfield from March 21st to Saturday 30th, details at http://www.suttonartstheatre.co.uk