A beautiful set masks the shows slow start. Projection designer William Simpson, rather than using more typical staging, projects a drawn image of the scene onto the stage. The combination of beautifully drawn scenes and the ingenious way they are presented to the audience makes the set the most fascinating thing about the play in my opinion. However, in contrast to that the plot wasn’t as fast paced and eventful as the title may have us believe. “Charlie Peace: His amazing life and astounding legend”…I think not. Too many short scenes left me feeling confused, and the lack of action meant I could not get caught up and excited. A play about a lothario Victorian murderer reinventing himself to dodge the law ought to keep me on the edge of my seat… but it didn’t.
the plot wasn’t as fast paced and eventful as the title may have us believe
Charlie Peace was played by Peter Duncan giving a multi-layered performance of a self-righteous thief who has an eye for the ladies. His character at first doesn’t come across so well but towards the end we understand that he enjoys his criminality and likes having a reputation, taking great pleasure in creating new identities for himself even if it means uprooting from Nottingham to London. Peter Duncan, in his debut role at the Nottingham Playhouse, enjoyed the part, saying he is “inspired by doing physical things on stage that are genuinely dangerous”, as reflected in the action scene where he dives out of a moving train’s window. Here again the use of projecting the set is fantastic as the inside of the carriage can, in a click of a button, become the track with the end of the train disappearing into the smoky distance. The pace and excitement I expected in the first half was very much present after the intermission and right up to the end of the play.
The Showman, originally narrating the story, was performed very well by Norman Pace. In his red tailcoat and top hat he roams the stage and introduces each new part of the play with true showmanship. Warm and engaging, he encourages the audience to participate even if only to mock our male lead. Far from the impartial narrator, he doesn’t condone a thing Peace does, and as a result their relationship is very humorous to watch.
Although this play is not a musical, music played a major role. Cast members formed a live quintet on stage, interchanging between acting, playing and singing. This made the slow first half bearable, and enhanced the somewhat better second half. A comical moment was when Peace mimed an enthusiastic rendition on his one piece fiddle, whilst in plain sight of the audience a real violinist produced the music. This playful use of sound was really enjoyable and captured my attention which I felt the plot at first just didn’t do.
The playful use of sound was really enjoyable and captured my attention
The amazing set and the skill of the actors and the musicians meant that despite the slow first half, I would recommend this play to anybody.
Charlie Peace is running at the Nottingham Playhouse from Friday 4 October – Saturday 19 October. Ticket prices range between £7.50 – £27.50. For more information, visit the website here.