Rogues, vagabonds and thieves, and that’s just the legal profession in 18th Century London town. Allegedly based on a true story, Ken Campbell’s Jack Sheppard is full of larger than life characters that inhabit the shady corners of a crime-ridden London.
Carpenter Jack Sheppard (not to be confused with the lead in TV series Lost) turns to a life of petty crime. Soon he is mixing with such colourful characters as Wozzy Fields, Dribbling Wilf, Porty McFigg and Edgeworth Bess. In the Black Stallion dastardly deeds are afoot with double crossing leading all too easily to the hangman’s noose.
Such colourful characters are an actors dream and for young actors such as the New Wolsey Youth Theatre the opportunity is one to relish.
Campbell’s anarchic style, however, comes with the temptation to overplay the surreal, when to be really effective the trick is to play the absurdness straight, letting the humour come from the characters. Sadly the production this time falls into that trap, overplaying the mania and turning the comedy into pantomime.
It is a real shame as there are some nice performances amid the madness. There’s nice character detail from Ben Horrex as innkeeper Joseph Hinds and Matt Styles as simpleton sidekick Wozzy Fields, while Morgan Evans’ Dribbling Wilf certainly lives up to the name.
There’s also strong performances from Jordan Harrington as Jonathan Wild, a foppish Thief Taker General and a scene-stealing James Adams as the urchin narrator.
George Harvison as Sheppard exudes a cheeky charm but perhaps needs a darker edge to convince as the chancer criminal.
Elsewhere the tendency to turn to pastiche detracts and the exuberance sometimes comes at the expense of character development and dramatic clarity. This energetic style also results in some lack of vocal diction, which in a space as small as the New Wolsey Studio becomes all too noticeable.
Rob Salmon’s direction would benefit from dialling back the anarchy a few notches and allowing the chaos to develop more organically.
Salmon also designs the production and it’s an impressive themepark setting that makes great use of the space to conjure up an authentic tavern and courtroom.
The New Wolsey Youth Theatre can always be relied on to come up with the unexpected and that bravery and ambition in programming is to be commended but, sadly, the choice of Jack Sheppard proves not to be their finest hour.
Campbell’s anarchic style may echo with the young cast but the final result is less than the sum of its parts; you admire the spirit and effort but not the overall whole.
Originally written for The Public Reviews