Touring – reviewed at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre
Ruth Rendell is an author I know so much about and I’ve watched a number of television adaptations of her novels – however, Gallowglass has always passed me by. Regardless, I feel well acquainted with the tone and setting of her penmanship and this world premiere stage adaptation of one of Rendell’s classics has wowed me to the point where I’m keen to see the production again.
In similar fashion to the television drama version, incidental music played its part in setting the ambience. Combined with exceptional scenery, simple touches transported us to London and East Anglia. The posters at the tube station in the opening scene spoke volumes as to what decade it was set in – I knew it was 1990 before I read the programme!
Every member of the cast characterised superbly, and each one became a storyteller in their own right – cleverly disguising the myriad twists which the road inevitably takes at the close of the show.
Joe Herbert (Dean Smith) is suffering from severe mental health problems and Sandor Wincanton (Joe Eyre) discovers him on a London tube platform about to take his own life. This triggers off a series of events which sees Sandor staking a claim on Herbert’s life and treating him as a slave (a rough translation of the term Gallowglass).
Sandor is passive aggressive, controlling and at times it’s unclear as to whether he might have homosexual tendencies. His well-to-do, unwitting mother (Karen Drury) certainly thinks so and embraces the fact that this means she has no female competition in her son’s life.
At the centre of the story is an ex model by the name of Nina Abbott, three times married and kidnapped once – so far. She’s the target for a second, similar ploy at the hands of one of her previous captors, Sandor. In the meantime she’s squirrelled away in a large estate with an elderly husband, Ralph Apsoland (Richard Walsh) and a ‘bodyguard’, Paul Garnett (Paul Opacic) who has his eleven year old daughter, Jessica (Eve Sayer) living with him. It’s a psychological thriller de force, unpredictable and jump-a-minute.
Joe Eyre makes for a menacing Sandor, as his intentions towards Nina became clear my heart was in my mouth and I was torn as to how I felt about his character. Dean Smith gave one of the performances of the show as ‘little Joe’, from his mannerisms to his gait, the effects of the ‘water in his head’ were shown outwardly and extremely believable.
Rachael Hart was a force to be reckoned with as Tilley, Joe’s sister. Her introduction into the piece was bawdy and raw, a real contrast to the macabre undertones running through the tale as it unfolded. Paul Opacic was natural to watch in the role of Paul Garnett, his protective paternal instincts versus growing love for his boss, Nina were played out engagingly and he has exceptional chemistry with Eve Sayer as his daughter Jessica which was a fascinating relationship to see.
Chemistry was also there in abundance between Opacic and Florence Cady as Nina – Cady played the role so understatedly that it was overtly clear she was aiming to be as invisible as possible. Casting Karen Drury as Diana, Sandor’s mum is an inspired move – it’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure of watching Drury on stage. However it’s always been obvious to me why she’s an award winning and BAFTA nominated actress. Her timing, stage presence and formidable portrayal of the role was akin to a masterclass, it was everything I expected from her and more.
Margaret May Hobbs has adapted this innovatively, Michael Lunney’s design and direction is flawless and thanks to Lynette Wesbter’s music, I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation more than once. If a psychological thriller which deals with mental health on a variety of planes and is packed with deeper meaning is your cup of tea – you have to see this production. It’s phenomenal.