Timberlake Wertenbaker’s intricate play about the nature of freedom – receiving its premiere at Watford Palace – is set during the years of American Revolution, though its reach and resonance are far wider.
The play is performed by a chorus of nine, who occasionally interrupt the flow of events to comment on the nature of history and memory, chronology and narrative, on the words and voices that get edited out by the passing of years.
David Burnett plays Christian, a Quaker shoemaker who sets out in pursuit of liberty. Drawn into Thomas Jefferson’s orbit, attracted by both the man and his message, he eventually learns what it truly means to be free – or to not be – from Mimi Ndiweni’s enslaved Susannah.
The play picks apart the American paradox but it does so in a very human way. While its tread feels a bit heavy in places, it’s never preachy and Brigid Larmour’s production has an unexpected playfulness to it.
There are occasional lulls but the multi-stranded narrative is elegantly woven together. It helps that the ensemble playing is strong. Ndiweni, one of the best things about the RSC’s Midsummer Mischief festival last year, gives a bright, rich performance – she gleams.
Burnett is convincing as the young man whose idealism is slowly eroded, William Hope is an eloquent, complex Jefferson, and Joseph Prowen creates a small but sharp pocket of emotion as a dying English soldier far from home.
James Button’s design is simple and effective, the stage gently sloped, red coats bold as blood against the backdrop, banners billowing.
- Watford Palace
- February 5-21, PN February 10
- Author: Timberlake Wertenbaker
- Director: Brigid Larmour
- Producer: Watford Palace Productions
- Design: James Button set, Prema Mehta lighting, Catherine Jays musical director
- Technical: Shona Morris movement director, Scott le Crass casting, Rachel Williams deputy stage manager
- Cast includes: David Burnett, Mimi Ndiweni, William Hope, Julia St John, Carlyss Peer, Burt Caesar
- Running time: 2hrs 30mins