Bonnie and Clyde – Etcetera Theatre, London

Writer: Adam Peck
Director: Alexandra Spencer-Jones
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

As a nation, we do love a good crime drama and popular culture has long had a tendency to almost glamorise our most infamous criminals. From the millions who tune in for the more light-hearted cases of Poirot and Sherlockto the grislier serials like The Fall and any ‘Scandi-noir’ outing you care to mention, we are infinitely fascinated by society’s lawbreakers. This is even more the case of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in a country where celebration of famous 1920s and 30s gangsters has given them semi-heroic status.

tell-us-block_editedThe revival of Adam Peck’s play Bonnie and Clyde at the Etcetera Theatre considers the criminal couple’s last hours holed-up in a barn, wounded and hiding from the law. Having lost the rest of the infamous Barrow Gang, the lovers are left alone to bicker and fret as the net closes around them. While they wait, they talk about their love for one another, their families and the things they have done, all the while knowing any moment could be their last.

Director Alexandra Spencer-Jones has made a decent fist of Peck’s two-hander, given that it limits the couple’s interaction to the brief period after their criminal spree and barely references anything they actually did. Much of their discussion is about love and family, about Clyde’s jealousy of Bonnie’s former husband, whether Bonnie’s mother likes her new son-in-law, and why Clyde is so physically withdrawn – although that one should be pretty obvious seeing as they’ve both been shot and are on the run.

Despite these issues with the original text, this production creates a genuine intimacy between the pair, while leads Angel Parker (Bonnie) and Tom Nunez (Clyde) give their characters a chemistry that makes their relationship a naturalistic mix of petty arguments and long-standing affection. A particularly good scene involves Bonnie reading about a robbery in the newspaper that has been falsely attributed to them, while Clyde fills in and acts out the dialogue to make them both laugh while revealing his annoyance at having every unsolved crime laid at his door.

One of the most interesting elements of the show is the way in which the duologues are interspersed with single-person narration as both characters address the audience to discuss their fears, or to explain how they met their end. Clyde’s sections, in particular, add considerably to the emotional weight of the story and are the only significant contextual reference to the world outside the barn and the fate of the people we’re watching, although the ever-present sense of danger could be better drawn-out.

In places, a rock music soundtrack is used as a scene-changer, or to underlie some of the narration but on several occasions it swamps the voice of the actor making it virtually impossible to hear the text, while Ilana Eisen’s lighting cues were drastically out of sync on several occasions on the night in question. The choice of music also implies an edgier take on the play than is actually presented and while, there are some choreographed dance / movement sequences at the start, it largely settles into a straightforwardly staged duologue with few tricks or innovations.

The central pairing, however, keeps us engaged with the aptly-named Parker’s Bonnie a feisty yet girlish woman who always knew she would be famous. She has no regrets but constantly looks to her lover to confirm her sacrifice of family and decency have been worth it while Parker cleverly implies they were an inevitable part of her attraction to Clyde. Nunez, meanwhile, has a darker role to play, often withdrawn from Bonnie’s chatter and bordering on regret for the people he’s killed, while dreaming of the normal life he could have had instead. Nunez makes it clear that his Clyde is more grounded and more aware of what’s to come, while to some extent protecting Bonnie from their fate.

Spencer-Jones’ version, with a fantastic set made of hay bales and graffitied barn walls, looks at the relationship of two of America’s most famous romanticised criminals. For such a famous pairing, Bonnie and Clyde have only featured in a couple of films and handful of TV movies, so this outing of Peck’s play is a rare chance to learn more about the infamous couple

Runs until 15 October 2016 | Image: Contributed

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