It is not often that a theatre -goer witnesses a world premiere production. But that is what happened in Wolverhampton (where else would you choose?) at the Grand on a wintry Thursday night. Written by Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, and adapted for the stage by Margaret May Hobbs for the middle Ground Theatre Company, a strong cast had been selected to kick start the production.
For many the first question is “what is Gallowglass”? The answer is a class of elite Nordic Gaelic mercenary warriors often used as bodyguards or servant.
The play opens with Joe, a desperate young man, about to commit suicide by throwing himself under a London tube train, a dramatic moment which did not wholly convince. He is saved by Sandor, a specious aesthete who demands servitude as reward for his action. That Joe become his Gallowglass. Joe Eyre is fabulous as Sandor, a devious, manipulative charmer, oozing gay dominant sexual intent. Dean Smith excels as the damaged innocent prey to Sandor’s predation. Karen Drury has a lot of fun as Diana, Sandor’s mother, whose tongue trips indiscretions when lubricated with wine. Rachael Hart too enjoys herself as Tilly, Joe’s brassy sister, and soon to be co-conspirator, in tiger print top and leggings tighter than a Tory NHS budget.
Florence Cady offers the glamour as Nina, whom Sandor has kidnapped before, a crime he wishes to commit again for motives which are not entirely financial. Paul Opacic is believable as Nina’s driver, and love interest, in a role which was a bit clunky for my tastes.
The set is a curious affair, two rooms, side by side, quite cluttered and fussy sit at the back of the stage, with a drop down gauze curtain providing a projectable backdrop for other settings quite far back from the front. As a consequence, what is quite an intense psychological thriller has a physical gulf between the frequent action at the back, and the audience.
Margaret May Hobb’s dialogue is strong enough, but on stage, it had a distinctly episodic nature, as if from chapter to chapter of a book, or instalment to instalment of television series. Director Michael Linney keeps the two, seventy five minute acts moving briskly enough, Jennifer Helps has created a strong costume identity too. Aficionados of Rendell’s work will not be disappointed, neither will devotees of the twists and turns of crime thrillers, and there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot. A satisfying and rewarding production which I suspect will adapt and evolve as the production gets some miles under its belt.
Continues until Saturday 20th at Wolverhampton, then continuing on nationwide tour.