Is paradise always an illusion? Can mankind ever escape from traditions of hierarchy, race and religion to found a society based on absolute equality? Not even when cut off from the world in an apparent Eden of plenty?
Those are the questions at the heart of this marvellous new play from Richard Bean that explores the what-ifs behind the ’lost’ twenty years on Pitcairn, the tiny rocky outcrop in the South Pacific, fled to by Fletcher Christian and his mutineers from The Bounty.
After landing on the volcanic spec, misplaced on navigational charts by 200-miles, the group burnt the Bounty, cutting off any escape for the British sailors and the group of Tahitian men and women who had accompanied them.
When the island was ‘found’ 20-years later, only one of the men was alive, living with nine women and 23 children. What had happened? Certainly not the official report that disease had killed the missing mutineers and others, according to Richard Bean’s version. Despite an attempt to throw off the ills of old-world societies – both in Europe and Tahiti – death comes through a measure of those most ancient of human challenges: lust, greed, envy and revenge.
This is a challenging work. The use of language is ripe from the outset, Tahitian society just as adept at Anglo-Saxon language as, well, the Anglo-Saxons it seems. Descriptions of the sexual act are graphic, both in the telling and the acting as both societies show themselves capable of extreme violence.
Yet through the work there is humour, especially with the interaction between the audience and play’s two marvellous narrators, Hiti, played by Eben Figueiredo, and the object of his youthful desire Mata,played by Cassie Layton.
Tom Morley plays Fletcher Christian whose act in giving up command to create a Utopian society sets in motion a trail of murder and calamity. Ash Hunter plays his scheming former second in command, Ned Young with his own rigid belief in Bible and breeding.
Among a strong cast, Samuel Edward-Cook stands out as the island’s rogue mad-dog, the buttock-tattooed sailor Quintal.
Pitcairn itself is a rocky outcrop surrounded by raging seas and designer Tom Shortfall creates a tempestuous set. The initial staging as waves roar across the stage floor towards huge rocks makes for an incredible opener to this well-directed work from Max Stafford-Clark.
Richard Bean’s final twist in his work of clashing cultures is a delight.
Pitcairn remains a mystery today. The island receives few visitors, the dwindling numbers of descendants of the mutineers still locked in their prison paradise. It is doubtful any of the remaining nine families will ever see this spectacular interpretation of their ancestors’ ‘lost’ decades.
Pitcairn runs until September 20.