A “gallowglass” is an Irish mercenary from the 16th century, and in the words of novelist Ruth Rendell a ‘chief servant’. Gallowglass, performed at the Theatre Royal from 20th to 24th of February, uses this archetype to examine the idea of ownership, possession and obsession in the new frame of a 90s kidnapping in a thrilling theatre novel adaption.
The play tells the story of Sandor who, wonderfully portrayed by Joe Eyre, is an enigmatic loner with a dark secret. He snatches Little Joe (Dean Smith) from the path of a London tube train and claims his life as a servant, embroiling him in an ultimately deadly plot. The story’s twists and turns have been adapted for the stage by Margaret May Hobbs, with direction by Michael Lunney.
The set and staging of the play is masterful. The multileveled positioning of the different sets on the same stage creates the juxtaposition imposed by the plot, and the foreboding so artfully presented by the actors in the first act is mirrored all around them by the set. There is no doubt that any viewer watching the play will feel fully immersed in its world. I found myself leaning in with little Joe as Sandor relays his sinister stories or flinching when a loud noise pierced the dialogue.
Where the play unfortunately let me down was in its second act story delivery. The plot’s twists became painfully predictable, with some perhaps clunky and clumsy foreshadowing as the story progressed. The pace seemed to change too quickly for the audience, and certain turns seemed squeezed into the narrative, though they were not in Rendell’s original work. When while during a serious scene the room was stifling laughter, this was made evident. Although the delivery of the line may have been on point and the acting was solid, the timing was clearly off, unfortunately continuing onto the play’s climax and eventual unsatisfying ending.
It should be said that the play was littered with extraordinary acting performances. Although scarcely featured, Karen Drury’s performance as Sandor’s mother was a real highlight and spoke to her long professional performance – I would have loved to see more from her.
All in all, I really enjoyed the performance, and the story combined with the acting was captivating and enjoyable. However, I wish the play was longer so that it could have really “kidnaped” my attention.
Gallowglass is being performed at the Norwich Theatre Royal from Tuesday 20th to Saturday 24th of February