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BWW Review: BONNY & READ, Brockley Jack Theatre


Two women cross-dress and go pirating in the West Indies

BWW Review: BONNY & READ, Brockley Jack Theatre

BWW Review: BONNY & READ, Brockley Jack Theatre Anne Bonny and Mary Read were two pirates who, dressed as men, raided the Caribbean in the early 18th century, plundering silver and gold, marrying, bearing children and fighting off the King's Men with muskets and cannon. It's quite a tale.

Claire Novello tells it through rhyming couplets and songs, a style some might consider a little Rupert The Bearish, but one that Lin-Manuel Miranda has made much more on-brander. As you can tell immediately, a little of this stuff goes a long way and the relentless rhymes are one cause of an imbalanced show. Frederick Appleby's music does provide a break with 12 songs that are pleasing on the ear without quite finding an 11 o'clock number. There is certainly a case for making the show a sung-through musical rather than a play with music, adding numbers to a script already laden with lyric-friendly writing.

Justine Marie Mead and Eliza Shea give us a bolshy, charismatic pair and sing beautifully, if inexplicably infrequently, in harmony, Mead's voice the stronger, yearning almost as much for the freedom to belt as her character yearned for the freedom to sail. They are supported by Duncan Drury, hammy and handsome as the pirate king, Calico Jack, and Mark Nicholson, a chummy and funny narrator.

That might also solve the other element that sets the ship off-kilter - the lack of much in the way of dramatic scenes. Director, Kenneth Michaels, requires his actors to spend the majority of their time addressing us, the audience, telling us what has happened rather than showing us what is happening. The play comes alive in the few scenes when the pirates are fighting or flirting but we're too soon back with an account of events that might float on the page but sinks on the stage.

Musicals are notoriously difficult to get right first time (and this is Novello's first musical drama so one cannot expect Hamilton, though there are many parallels with his tale and that of Mary and Anne), but I'd suggest this work needs more development with the aim of showing more and telling less and to allow the songs to gain a more individual identity. Also, perhaps, to rework a script in order to ease back on the rhyming couplets from time to time.

Bonny & Read is at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 4 December

Photo Paddy Gormley

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