DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Ruth Rendell’s Gallowglass – Darlington Hippodrome

Adapted for the stage by Margaret May Hobbs

Director: Michael Lunney

Reviewer: Mark Clegg

Prior to curtain up on press night of this play at Darlington Hippodrome, the audience were mildly entertained by a stray pigeon that had somehow got into the theatre and proceeded to flutter around the auditorium. Sadly, what followed on stage in this kidnap-themed potboiler failed to come to being anywhere near as exciting as that. Ruth Rendell was a prolific writer of thrillers and her works have produced hours of entertaining television. However, stage adaptations of Rendell’s books have been far less memorable and successful and Gallowglass does nothing to break that curse.

One of the big issues here is the source material which offers a decent central premise but is not particularly involving, nor is it well suited to the stage. With its multitude of locations and scene changes, this story would have been much more at home on BBC1 at 9 pm on a Sunday night. As it is the various scenes are shared between some pretty nice practical sets and some pretty shoddy photographic projections on a front gauze. With so many scene changes, shifts in location, a pace that rarely steps up above mildly interesting and an overly long running time, labelling this as a “thriller” would be against the Trade Description Act. Margaret May Hobbs’s inconsistent script does not help, offering as it does some nice dramatic scenes followed by some of the clunkiest dialogue in recent memory. This is all a big shame as much of the acting on display here is very good. 

Dean Smith plays Joe, a troubled man whose life has led him to attempt suicide. Smith’s performance as the nervous, bullied Joe is nuanced and genuine as he deals with Sandor, his saviour who then claims to own his life and ropes him into a kidnap plot. Joe Eyre’s Sandor is one of the weaker links in the cast – unfortunate when he has the most to do. Eyre struggles with a badly written role that bounces between aloofness and cartoonish malevolence, remaining unconvincing in both. Much more successful is Paul Opacic as Paul Garnett, newly employed driver to Nina (Florence Cady) who is wife to ridiculously rich Ralph Apsoland (Richard Walsh).  Opacic is given some of the more genuinely dramatic scenes and handles them very well, while Walsh is very good in a small role that is ultimately almost completely superfluous. Cady as the wife (and target of the kidnapping) conducts herself well in another role that is rather clumsily written. Also featured are Karen Drury who lifts everything up for about ten minutes when she appears as Sandor’s mother, Eva Sayer who perfectly portrays a precocious eleven year old, Matthew Wellman sporting the most outrageous Italian accent since Super Mario, and Rachael Hart whose broad performance seems like she has walked in from another (far more entertaining) play.

The last two minutes of Gallowglass almost make up for the preceding two and a half hours with a vaguely interesting denouement, but for the most part, this is as bloated and plodding as a bulldog full of bicarb. Maybe they need to employ that pigeon for the rest of the tour.

Runs until 31 March 2018 | Image: Contributed

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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