Pitcairn, a rocky outpost in the South Pacific and since the 18th century, the home of mutineers and their ancestors from the Bounty. The ship once led by Capt Bligh but taken over by Fletcher Christian has been the subject of any number of accounts. Richard Bean (One Man Two Guv’nors, Great Britain and the soon to be unveiled musical, Made in Dagenham) has now provided us with another. Arguably the most prolific playwright in the country, Pitcairn shows him hardly running out of juice.
It’s a big, rumbustious kind of play, directed by Max Stafford Clark for his Out of Joint company in collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe that certainly doesn’t lack ambition. Imagining what might have occurred between the mutineers landing on Pitcairn with Tahitian women, half a dozen Polynesian men and a child in tow and their rediscovery two decades later, it’s a story of disillusionment and idealism destroyed.
As if a companion piece to Our Country’s Good, Stafford Clark’s other famous account of first settlers, drawn byTimberlake Wertbenbaker from Thomas Keneally’s account of Australia’s penal pioneers, once again Max Stafford Clark has fashioned a telling theatrical production out of the debate, no less gripping in our own time, of how to balance utopian visions of equality and fairness with human drives of greed, violence and jealousy.
Fletcher Christian is the idealist pitting himself against a rabble of rough sailors and the strange and sexually open ways of the Tahitians and Polynesians. Bean has some wonderful fun with such divergent sexual mores – perhaps not fully appreciated by a Chichester audience but no doubt seized upon with glee when the company visit Shakespeare’s Globe.
With a heady mix of intellectual debate, audience participation and ethnic dances, Stafford Clark’s young company produce an entertainment that demands a good deal of them (and sometimes us) but gives us a thoughtful drama not least in its picture of female dominance (and violence) before a denouement that reveals only one mutineer left standing amongst a harem of women.
Recent history has shown the Pitcairns heavily scarred by accusations of child sexual abuse. This is a picture of what might have been before the inevitable Fall.