Pitcairn

Richard Bean
Out-of-Joint and Shakespeare's Globe
Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Tom Morley as Fletcher Christian Credit: Alastair Muir
The mutineers hauling in what they can salvage from the Bounty
The Tahitian girls fighting back

As part of Chichester’s ‘Hidden History” season, and based on the true story of the mutineers from the Bounty landing on the remote uninhabited island of Pitcairn, Bean’s play mixes truth with a little imaginative fiction and at the end still leaves us with a mystery.

The mutineers, fearful that they may be discovered and taken back to England to face trial and death, literally burn their boat so no trace of them can be seen from the sea. The burning of the boat and the opening scene with waves crashing over the rocks are, courtesy of video designer Andrzej Goulding, totally amazing, the waves even mesmerising.

Fletcher Christian, the original leader of the mutiny, tries to establish a democratic community with his fellow mutineers and the Tahitians they had brought with them, most of them unwillingly. Not the most promising group of potentially law-abiding citizens, but Christian, maybe at this point feeling some remorse at setting Captain Bligh adrift, tries to instill morality in them with the help of the ship’s Bible.

Interestingly, this event occurred around the time of the French Revolution with its theme of equality for all, but "man’s natural condition is violence, lechery, drunkenness and greed," says Christian, and he is proved correct as his dream of Utopia is gradually eroded.

His own descent from dreamer to schemer is well portrayed by Tom Morley, an ineffectual leader as the community erupts into civil war, so he might as well make the most of events and plan accordingly. Deputy Ash Hunter, in a nicely paced performance as the more realistic Ned Young, would perhaps have fared better.

There is a touching vulnerability in Eben Figueiredo’s performance as young Hiti, who is desperate to have a woman before he dies and his wish is finally granted by the equally appealing Vanessa Emme as Fasto. Both indulge in a little audience participation (no, not the sex) which is quite amusing and will go down well when it transfers to the Globe, as will the wildly energetic native dance to percussion instruments.

Much is made of the beautiful Tahitian girls and their love of sex, although rape there is punishable by death, a fact which doesn’t bother Samuel Edward-Cook’s Quintal one bit in his terrifyingly realistic drunken attack, and it is the girls who eventually assert their independence, the girls who survive the longest, with only one man left alive.

Director Max Stafford-Clarke keeps firm control, but there is so much to pack into the show that it does become a trifle muddled and there is a mystery about the truth to this day. Bean however has added another mystery.

The last man left is, so far as can be established, John Adams who signed on as crew under the name Alexander Smith and was not strictly speaking a mutineer. He was loyal to Bligh, but there was no room for him in Bligh’s boat.

In Bean’s play, he had two toes missing from one foot. Why then did Christian hack off two of his own toes? Did he take the place of Adams and assume his identity so he would have no crime to answer for, and if so what happened to Adams?

As the last man arrives heavily bearded, there is no way of knowing who it is—a mystery Bean has left for us to ponder over.

Transferring to the Globe on 22 September 2014

Reviewer: Sheila Connor