Reviews West End & Central Published 28 September 2014

Pitcairn

Globe Theatre ⋄ 27th September – 11th October 2014

Small island.

Tim Bano

Richard Bean’s Pitcairn takes the form of an insensitive romp through colonialism inspired by the events that followed the 1789 mutiny on The Bounty. Having overthrew Captain Bligh and set him adrift, the majority of the mutineers stayed behind on Tahiti and risked recapture by English authorities. But nine of the men, including their leader Fletcher Christian, sought safety on the remote island of Pitcairn, taking with them 12 Tahitian women, six Polynesian men and a child.

Tim Shortall ’s set is an imposing collage of big jutting white slabs. On it, half-clothed, tattooed Tahitians and English sailors in full naval uniform clamber around trying to build their utopia.

The Tahitians, when talking amongst themselves, speak English with no accent. But when they are among the English sailors they adopt broad, generic ‘foreign’ accents which sound a bit silly. This lack of depth persists in the portrayal of the Tahitians, who come across as sex-hungry and ‘uncivilised’, as if they are characters from an 18th century sailor’s journal rather than a 21st century playwright’s play. Arguing about their culture’s traditions poses some interesting questions: having been kidnapped from Tahiti and forced into being wives to the mutineers most of the women seem quite contented with their lot. But they are unsure whether to keep their Tahitian traditions or naturalise with the English, whether to stay with their shiny, new, white husbands or try to make it back to Tahiti. Bean demotes these discussions to subplot, focusing instead on the many, tedious arguments of the English men.

These debate – about the division of land, the introduction of religion (either as belief, or as a means of subjugating the incredulous women) and voting rights – turn swathes of the play into an interesting thought experiment about the best way to build a society from scratch and Bean has drawn distinct, clashing personalities in the men –  the brutal drunkard Quintal, the uptight authority figure Ned Young – which ensures conflict and failure from the beginning.

Eventually they turn to the division of the women, deciding who gets to marry whom by bartering and voting. When the group of women discuss rape, and how it is ‘tapu’, or taboo, and how two of them have been raped by Quintal, it is immediately undercut with one of the characters saying “You showed him your tits. English women wrap up their tits” and then pointing to an audience member as an example to get a laugh.

With the rest of the audience visible throughout, who have less of an inclination to sit quietly and unresponsively, and with the splendour of the architecture, the open sky and the marble carvings to gaze at, the Globe is a distracting space. Bean’s play is really dialogue heavy and, with exciting things going on around you (like an usher’s phone going off), it is easy for all this dialogue to get lost amid the background noise.

There are odd, unexpected moments that seem out of kilter with the rest of the play – like the boy Hiti and the girl Mata frequently talking to the audience in childish tones about trying to have sex with each other – playing it for laughs, which while suitable for the Globe space seems incongruous with the rest of the play. Te Lahu, a Tahitian women, has an extended twerking interlude, as well as an extended dildo dance.

At times it almost an old-school historical drama, evoking the romantic age of Bligh and His Majesty’s Royal Navy, of explorers sailing the high seas. Almost.  But it seems intent on eking laughs out of the two dimensional portrayals of Tahitians. Perhaps it is intentionally reflecting the attitudes of the time, or perhaps it is not sensitively considered. What’s apparent is that there seems to be no sense of responsibility: the English are horny, argumentative morons and the Tahitians are stupid, submissive slaves. Pitcairn ultimately descends into a sexually charged, crude comedy of manners which is neither one thing or the other, not particularly funny nor particularly incisive.

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Tim Bano

Tim is a freelance arts writer and theatre critic. He writes regularly for Time Out, The Stage and other publications. He is co-creator of Pursued By A Bear, Exeunt Magazine's theatre podcast.

Pitcairn Show Info


Directed by Max Stafford-Clark

Cast includes Tom Morley, Ash Hunter, Cassie Layton, Eben Figueiredo

Link http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/

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