Review: Charlie Peace – Nottingham Playhouse

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The deeds and misdemeanors of Victorian age legend Charlie Peace hit the Nottingham Playhouse last night in the form of a stylish new performance written by Michael Eaton and directed by Giles Croft.

For those “not in the know” Charlie Peace was a charismatic, oft-charming burgler-cum-killer in the late 1800’s who’s legacy became the stuff of legend leading to film’s, a well loved children’s nursery rhyme and even a waxwork model. Yes Charlie Peace was an early incarnation of what is now called the “anti-hero”.

We humans have a strange fascination with charismatic criminals, often placing them on pedestals, take the likes of the Kray’s, Bonnie & Clyde and John Dillinger as examples, all horrible individuals who have become somewhat legends in the minds of the public. Even in fiction we lean towards these anti-hero characters, from mafia boss Tony Soprano to chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin Walter White in the recently departed Breaking Bad, it seems we love a bad guy as long as they have a personality about them.

Norman Pace and Peter Duncan in Charlie Peace - picture by Robert Day

Norman Pace and Peter Duncan in Charlie Peace – picture by Robert Day

Boy did Charlie Peace. Where it not for the murder you would maybe even have labelled him a lovable rouge, and it was hard not to be taken in by his charm, this in no small part being down to a fantastic performance by the wonderful Peter Duncan – best known for his time in as a Blue Peter presenter in the early eighties. Duncan did a brilliant job of displaying an at times complex character who reveled in his life-style and had one heck of a soft spot for the ladies.

The show kicked off with a circus style stage act – based appropriately at Goose Fair, in which the “Execution of Charlie Peace” was to be acted out in all its glory, however before the execution could happen our lead hopped out of his rope and declared that the time had come to tell the full story of Charlie Peace and so we were whipped back to Sheffield in the 1870’s.

The early story deals with Charlie – who is living with his wife having recently been released from one of several spells behind bars – and how he meets Katherine Dyson – neighbour and wife of tycoon Arthur Dyson, and the tragedy that follows which leads to Peace fleeing his home town.

The story then moves on to Nottingham and the murky underworld of Narrow Marsh, a place infamous in the history of Nottingham, here he meets the Nottingham Nightingale, Susan Bailey and once again his heart eventually leads to his downfall.

With his actions leading to the “crushers” – police – being hot on his tail, Peace is forced to flee Nottingham and heads for the bright lights of London.

Eventually though, as is often the way, it all catches up with Peace and he is captured whereupon he is returned to Leeds and, as we know from the beginning of the story, he meets his demise at the hands of the hangman’s noose in 1879. Though not before a final monologue from Peace that seems to hit a nerve in today’s age of corrupt bankers.

The cast are all excellent, as previously stated Duncan is fantastic as Peace perfectly balancing the different sides to a complex and enigmatic character, while Bridie Higson is in fine form playing the dual roles of both female love interests Katherine. The ensemble cast, including Mia Soteriou (recently seen as Mirri Maz duur in Game of Thrones) as Peace’s long suffering wife Hannah, all impress – and even take on duties as the orchestra when not on stage.

Meanwhile Norman Pace, best known as being one half of nineties comedy duo Hale and Pace, and for telling my generation to “never return once a firework’s been lit”, holds the story together as The Showman delivering a fun performance and acting as something of a moral conscience throughout, lambasting the audience for falling for the charms of the miscreant lead.

The story moves along at a swift pace blending action and plenty of laughs along the way as well as some great musical numbers, the design, courtesy of Barney George and artist Eddie Campbell (From Hell) is brilliantly done wonderfully replicating the different Victorian age locations.

All in all Charlie Peace is an excellent tale brilliantly performed and told by all involved and offers a fantastic look at one of the early criminal celebrities, we highly recommend you get on down and check out this show.

Peace. Out.

Review by Darren Patterson

Charlie Peace: His Amazing Life and Outstanding Legend is playing at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 19 October, for more information click here

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