Review: Dick Turpin: The Celebrity Highwayman, Richard III Museum, Monk Bar, Monkgate, York, until August 24 (From York Press)
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Review: Dick Turpin: The Celebrity Highwayman, Richard III Museum, Monk Bar, Monkgate, York, until August 24
THERE is more than one Dandy Dick in York this week. Arthur Wing Pinero’s bracing racing farce of that name is running at the Grand Opera House, and now, riding into town from London on Black Bess, is dandy Dick Turpin, the most famous highwayman in the land.
Except that this Dick is also a pock-marked, cockerel-thieving, physically weakened weasel, far removed from the kiss-stealing, land speed record-breaker in the French cocked hat regaled in Alfred Noyes’s poem.
As you climb the narrowing steps of Monk Bar to the top-floor performance space, you hear a tape-loop of a different bad-lad Richard, England’s most reviled king, defending his reputation. How apt that the museum dedicated to another public figure divided by myth and reality – Yorkshire Society hero and Shakespeare whipping boy Richard III – should house the debut performance of the new York company Off Kilter Theatre as they tell both sides of Richard Turpin’s story, refracted through our own age of celebrity obsession.
This new spin on Turpin has been written by Annie Hodson, a 22-year-old writer back home in York and working in the Theatre Royal café after graduating from Birmingham University. Her specialist subject was American Studies but she certainly has done her research on the English rogue too, devising a balanced, if manic and menacing re-assessment of Turpin with LAMDA students Chris Lakin, 20, and Sam McAvoy, 19, and Birmingham School of Acting student Pip Barclay, 19, who are all from York.
A poster on the Monk Bar steps says Off Kilter will stand and deliver a verdict on whether Turpin was a dashing hero or violent thug. You will play your part by forming a circle with Lakin and Barclay for a séance to raise the spirit of Turpin, last seen buried in quicklime in the graveyard of St George’s Church, York, in 1739.
Once the circle is broken, amid much leaping around and throwing themselves to the floor by the bare-footed Lakin and Barclay, a dazed and confused Turpin suddenly bursts through the door, as McAvoy’s doomsday music stops dead in its tracks.
In a trice, the mood has turned from playful interplay to a focused prodding of McAvoy’s Turpin by agent provocateurs Lakin and Barclay as they question him, taunt him and re-enact his deeds.
They switch between presenting the case for the prosecution and playing assorted characters from Turpin’s life, both the pock-marked version from his days in the Essex Gang and the romantic vision of two Noyes poems that Hodson assimilates into her script.
McAvoy’s Turpin does not so much present his own defence as play the puppet in the puppeteers’ amphitheatre, switching between gun-toting rough rogue and handsome highwayman as they pull his strings and tickle his ego.
You are sort of left to make up your own mind as judge and jury of after 50 excited, agitated, breathless minutes. However, as the boys in the now dust-covered bare feet make their exit, to the sound of Turpin leaping to his hangman’s death, their smirking smiles tell you they think they have done a number on him, stitching up another celebrity like the News Of The World once did.
- Dick Turpin: The Celebrity Highwayman, Off Kilter Theatre, Richard III Museum, Monk Bar, Monkgate, York, until August 24, at 8pm and 9.15pm. Box office: 01904 623568, yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on the door from 30 minutes before each show.