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That Golden Age

Rob Johnston
Breathe Out Theatre Company
The Continental, Preston

That Golden Age being performed on the harbourfront in Scarborough earlier in the year

There might just be buried treasure in this intriguing playlet about two notorious female pirates.

Mary Read and Anne Bonny were a latter-day Thelma and Louise, two women putting themselves beyond the law when they joined in the piracy rife in the Caribbean of the early 1700s.

Mary had been an innkeeper while Anne was the daughter of an Irish lawyer. Their lives are already pretty well documented and there are even contemporary illustrations of the duo.

Manchester playwright Rob Johnston, whose work is often performed here, concentrates on the women’s particular challenge to both be true to themselves, at the same time as being equal to the men’s world in which they find themselves immersed. In that respect it’s an all-too timeless dilemma of feminism.

Mary Hooton and Rebecca Fenwick play the two women, while Joel Parry and Adam Urey represent the villainous men who bring about their downfall. One of them, Calico Jack, is described as the Scourge of the Caribbean, but with a name like that might they mean Serge?

Some of the acting is still a little self-conscious but there’s a swashbuckling authenticity to the sword-fighting. Johnston rigs all the right moments even though this play does not yet fully set sail. At the moment, and in only 75 minutes, That Golden Age can really only feel like an idea in development.

There is much more colouring-in work needed on the women’s back-stories, especially the apparent gender-concealing way in which both were reared, and their respective routes towards a lawless lifestyle.

The writer seasons it all with the right amount of salty swagger and peppery language but is also capable of bringing some lyrical moments to the women’s exchanges. It’s warmly received by a capacity audience here, but as a full-blown theatrical drama it might properly shiver the timbers.

Reviewer: David Upton