Tag Archives: Rachel Garnet

“The Standard Short Long Drop” at The Vanguard, Camden

Rachel Garnet’s historical prison drama is a tidy play that offers a prism to look at crime and capital punishment. Set in 19th-century York, a man on death row is offered a reprieve if he will act as hangman for his cell mate. The dilemma arrives swiftly and the debate is an interesting exercise. 

Garnet’s skill as a writer along with strong performances and precise direction from Natasha Rickman ensure success. The key is taking gallows humour in a surprising direction – Garnet takes wit seriously. The funny remarks come from the characters’ deepest fears and beliefs. Ultimately, it is the humour that engenders the play’s humanity and makes it moving.

Prisoner Alistair’s dry logic, his apparent resignation, is contrasted with the naivety of his younger companion, Ludley. But we know one can’t be as calm as he seems and the other can’t be as stupid! Kevin Wathen gives a carefully layered performance as Alistair, making the character suitably imposing. Per Carminger is passionate and convincing as the “tender soul” Ludley. There’s tension in getting to know the men’s crimes and Garnet makes what they have done so satisfyingly complex, the play doesn’t deserve spoilers.

As for the history, without giving too much away, Garnet has a brilliantly light touch. One small query – the play might look more at religion, especially given the suggestion of Catholicism. A concern with class has suitably Victorian overtones but is given impressive urgency. There’s a passion in discussing factory conditions I don’t remember from my social and economic history classes – a real achievement.

We get to know the men as they get to know each other, Rickman complements the script while the performers relish the roles. Of course, it all makes Ludley’s task harder. That the victim tries to help might seem improbable but both characters see the play’s point – they are trapped in an evil system. Alistair becomes a teacher, but also counsellor, maybe even confessor, to his own executioner. There’s a sting in the piece that is planned, effective, and builds marvellously.

Until 22 October 2023

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“Starcrossed” at Wilton’s Music Hall

Aside from the Greeks, can you think of a play that’s inspired as many others as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? Rachel Garnet’s 2018 take is to tell the tale from the perspective of Tybalt and Mercutio. And to make the men a new pair of star-crossed lovers.

The idea shouldn’t be a surprise, given how much Shakespeare is played with. But if it sounds a little sensational, think again. Starcrossed is a serious piece – if it has a failing it’s a lack of humour – that shows deep thinking and sensitivity, and a firm grasp on its source material that is super smart.

The development of Shakespeare’s minor characters is a huge success. Yes, Garnet has plenty to work with, but she creates solid, interesting characters that are an exciting prospect for performers.

Mercutio – a “fickle creature” – is a pacifist and an all-round outsider, vividly brought to life by Connor Delves, who has travelled with the show from New York. It’s easy to see Mercutio captivating all he meets with his intelligence and dangerous flair. Tommy Sim’aan takes the role of Tybalt and is just as magnetic to watch. The character’s confusion about his status as well as sexuality are evoked in equal measure and never overstated.

Gethin Alderman

Starcrossed has charm too – which brings us to the final performer, known as The Player, who takes on all the other roles! So, Gethin Alderman becomes Lord Capulet, Paris, Romeo (and Juliet) as well as Tybalt’s father – a great creation whose scenes are a real highlight. Switching so many roles cannot fail to impress, and Alderman adds a playfulness that is welcome.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

Garnet’s script is a marvel, a verse play with snatches of Shakespeare (not just from Romeo and Juliet) cleverly incorporated. Stimulating and erudite, this is a text to treasure. It is a credit to the performers and Philip Wilson’s impeccable direction that such learning is worn easily. As with the best Shakespearean productions, we appreciate the wit but don’t feel excluded by it.

Garnet manages to look at the circumstances she creates from the perspective of gay men and pays attention to the history. The couple’s fear and the degree of acceptance they have about keeping their love a secret is moving. There’s a consistent tension in seeing how the script fits into the bigger story, what lines are used or ignored, as well as the exciting speculation about how much change we’ll see.

Best of all, concerns for the future, wrapped up in questions of honour and legacy, are explored with insight and originality. Creating a story “never told” has a powerful impact. Along with Mercutio’s speculation about how lives might be different in 500 years’ time, the idea that so much LGBTQ+ history has been lost is used by Garnet to great effect.

Until 25 June 2022


Photo by Pamela Raith