The premise of Richard Bean’s latest play is promising; an imagining of what really went on when a raggle taggle group of sailors mutinied on the Bounty and set sail for the tiny island of Pitcairn, along with a cohort of Tahitian women and a few Tahitian men.
The audience take their seats before an interpretation of a rocky outcrop and cliff-face, with projected waves and sounds to match. It’s a good set, and the idea that Pitcairn is a godforsaken rock in the middle of nowhere, despite its appearance as a prelapsarian paradise, is a good one. However, the idea doesn’t really follow through, and at times this harsh rock seems rather out of place with what we’re told is such fertile and pleasant land.
Arriving on Pitcairn, the idealistic, revolutionary master of the mutiny, Fletcher Christian sees the opportunity to start afresh in this “garden of Eden”, scrapping tradition and class division and living in harmony with Reason and Nature. Inevitably, through the course of the play the mutineers descend into infighting and civil war, and the play ends, as we know it will from the beginning, with all the men dead bar one. It’s difficult not to think of it as a sort of Lord of the Flies with grown ups.
That said, the performance is energetic and slick. The audience participation is done well and avoids the awkwardness which it could so easily fall into, even if the narrator of the story is at times a little irritating in his mournful delivery. The character of Tahitian Menalee is genuinely funny and executed very well. The story is a good one, and despite perhaps seeming a little dull and predictable in the first half, the action picks up after the interval and introduces a clever twist at the end.
The real criticism, though, is that the play ultimately failed to be exciting. It veers between comedic and philosophical, without ever managing to really combine the two. One moment it’s bawdy jokes from a rough talking seaman, and the next it’s a comment on the violent nature of humanity from a refined enlightenment man. The characters are rather more pastiches than fully fledged human beings; said bawdy seaman and enlightenment man being the two best examples.
Pitcairn is a play which is upheld by a good idea and a strong performance, but which lacks the originality to make it truly engaging. Essentially a Lord of the Flies set up with women, sex and a few good jokes, it’s entertaining, but nothing more.
Watch the Globe’s trailer here