Pitcairn, Minerva, Chichester Festival Theatre, review: Lucid and hard-edged


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Richard Bean is so prolific a dramatist that he makes Ernie Wise look as constipated as E.M. Forster.

This year, our hero seems to have entered a new phase of creative incontinence.  There's his National Theatre hit, Great Britain, about the incestuous relationship between press, police and politicians.  Later in the season, the much-ballyhooed new musical Made in Dagenham boasts a book by him.  And there's a revival of his first Royal Court play, Toast, at the Park. 

But I suspect that, in the haunting suggestiveness and savagely comic iconoclasm department, Pitcairn – his latest play, premiered in a heroically lucid and hard-edged production by Max Stafford-Clark – is going to be in a class of its own. 

It presents one of those tricky cases for the reviewer: I often felt impatient with it during its 2 ½ hour duration and wished that it would establish what it wanted principally to be about more firmly.   But I can't stop thinking about it and it expands in my mind at a great rate of knows and that is to Bean's great credit.

For a long time, I have wondered why no one has thought of masterminding film or play that counterpoints Fletcher Christian's infamous 1789 mutiny of the Bounty with the Sixties mutiny of Marlon Brando (who played Fletcher Christian with Trevor Howard's superb Bligh in the 1962 movie Mutiny On the Bounty) against Hollywood and the studio system and the DWEM-centred values of the America he had left.  In my mind, the career of the real Brando revved up so that you could see the fat Kurz-figure he brilliantly, albeit malgre lui, portrayed flickeringly juxtaposed with Fletcher Christian, who went native as Brando did, though more extendedly and with no recourse to air miles.

Bean has had a somewhat better, indeed brilliant, idea. Let's imagine the post-Bligh life of the arch-mutineer Fletcher Christian — superbly played in all his mountingly harrowed, botched Utopian intensity by Tom Morley.

Let's further imagine him in two times zones: his attempt to create the “pure vellum” of a class-less, non-sexist society on Pitcairn (a volcanic rock, one mile by two) with abducted Tahitian lovelies and filtered (incognito) through the eyes of a British inspectorate who believe Christian to be safely dead. 

What follows is too diffuse dramatically to grip the imagination with the requisite power. There are moments when you wish it would turn into South Pacific “A hundred-and-one pounds of fune /That's my little Honey Bun...” or when you feel that it should, in its depiction of a multi-pronged Utopian dream against imperialism, go for a Peter Blake palimpsest approach, with Prospero organising the vocals and the nibbles at the wedding of Wendy (from Peter Pan) and Piggy (from Lord of the Flies) before a feminist gang hacks them to death, supported by Lost Boys of all persuasions. 

The play takes too long finding its ostensible thematic ley-line and it's hard to care about anyone emotionally. But I recommend it for when it travels to the Globe and outer parts where its audience-participation and its scale will find the right home. A projected 4 stars on the South Bank.

To Sept 20; 01243 781312; then touring