Inherit the Wind
Newcastle Theatre Company, NTC Theatre, Lambton.
To Sept 9.
THE timelessness of moves by powerful officials to force people to comply with their biased edicts is shown in this engrossing production of the 1955 play by American writers Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.
The story is based on the 1920s trial of a young male science teacher who ignored the legal prohibition in a strongly religious southern US state of telling students about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as a counter to the Bible’s declaration that God created the world in six days.
While director Pearl Nunn and her cast and crew have retained the 1920s setting through costuming, the change of sex of some of the text’s all-male court room characters, with the defence counsel becoming a woman, adds to the drama and comic moments of the arguments and the reactions they produce among trial participants and onlookers.
The large cast, headed by Lindsay Carr and Katy Carruthers as the sharply worded opposing counsels, keep the audience alert and amused. Carr’s prosecutor, Matthew Harrison Brady, and Carruthers’ defence attorney, Henrietta Drummond, were once the best of friends, but Brady’s pompous and self-righteous behaviour helped drive them apart. The play includes an engrossing sequence in which Drummond calls Brady to the stand as an expert on the Bible and tries to question him about Darwin’s writings.
The other characters are also very real people. Lee Mayne’s Bertram Cates, the modest and generally quiet teacher on trial, at one point angrily shouts out the actual damning words the local fundamentalist preacher had used in referring to one of his students, rather than those stated by the preacher’s daughter, Rachel (Belinda Hodgson), who is a fellow teacher and his girlfriend.
Carl Gregory beings out the cynicism of E. K. Hornbeck, a young journalist assigned by a Baltimore newspaper to cover the trial; Paul Sansom’s spiritual leader, Reverend Brown, is zealous and controlling; the stern face of Stephanie Cunliffe-Jones’ district attorney, Davenport, switches to concern when Drummond makes telling points; and Brian Wark’s judge is clearly determined to be impartial, despite his religious beliefs.
The other characters include Meeker (Noel Grivas), the non-judgmental and helpful bailiff at the court house, Brady’s wife (Jennifer White), who is concerned about his health, the town’s mayor (Phil Haywood), who is worried about the economic future of the town in view of the publicity the trial has received, two teenage school friends, Howard (Sean Heffron), who has to take the witness stand to answer questions about Cates’ teaching, and Melinda (Lotte Coakes-Jenkins), who is a firm believer in the Bible. The other actors, Judith Schofield, Corinne Lavis, Bridget Barry, Mike Peters, John Wood, and Maxine Mueller, play townfolk, jurors, reporters and business people.
Graham Wilson’s set design enables swift changes between venues that include a court room, railway station and the town square.
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The Crucifer of Blood
DAPA, DAPA Theatre, Hamilton.
To Sept 9.
Paul Giovanni’s play, based mainly on the Sherlock Holmes novel The Sign of Four, has a young adult Holmes (played by Alex Faber) and friend Dr John Watson (Duncan Gordon) investigating, at the request of a worried young woman (Maddie Richards), a pact her father and two other British military men made in India 30 years earlier when they confiscated a treasure chest.
It has literally become a blood pact, because the incident that led to the woman, Irene St Claire, knocking on Holmes’ Baker Street apartment door was seeing a letter envelope her father had received in the mail, with a cross-shaped mark on it etched in blood.
It’s a lively tale, with lots of funny moments and increasing dead bodies, staged by director David Murray on realistic sets that include an Indian fortress wall, Holmes’ well-decorated apartment, a spooky country lodge, an oriental-adorned opium den, and a boat crossing the river Thames. While I felt the elaborate set changes took too long at the performance I attended, other audience members didn’t seem to mind the wait, as they were kept in suspense until the final moments as to how the story would end.
The actors certainly do a good job, with a few changing roles during the story and looking very different from the characters they initially played. Peter Eyre, for example, is first seen as Durga Dass, one of the Indians who are accomplices to the treasure-hunting English soldiers in the story’s opening scene but are betrayed by them. He later becomes the dim-witted and over-the-top Scotland Yard inspector Lestrade who views himself as an exemplary investigator. Sean Hixon likewise goes from being an Indian to a creepy butler, Birdy Johnson. And stage manager David Ebert makes a couple of momentary appearances.
The treachery of the three English soldiers in the opening sequence has clearly had an impact on their lives 30 years later. Oliver Pink’s Major Ross sharply delivers orders aimed at helping him to keep the major share of the treasure, but while he is similarly seen in upmarket garb in the 1887 scenes he is clearly suffering from memories of the past and fear of treachery. Irene’s father, Captain St Claire, played by director David Murray, is also going through trying mental phases. And the third accomplice, Jonathan Small (Michael Smythe), who was a private at the time, is bitter about the way Ross and St Claire treated him because of his lower rank.
The three young characters are understandably the brightest. Alex Faber’s violin-playing Holmes is quick to realise what people’s behaviour means, Duncan Gordon’s Dr Watson trusts Holmes’ interpretations, and he helps to soothe Irene’s troubled mind, with the pair falling in love.