by Maxwell Modell
New Theatre, 30/01/2018
Gallowglass is the premiere stage adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s (written as Barbara Vine) thriller of the same name. Yet the play distinctly failed to offer the thrills promised, instead offering a basic by the numbers plot and some twists which don’t quite add up.
The play opens with Sandor saving the life of Joe who is about to throw himself in front of a train, saying “I saved your life, so your life belongs to me now.” This initial set up is strong, and the meek, shy, and uneducated Joe offers a stark contrast to the intellectual and domineering Sandor. Their relationship is the most intriguing element of the play. However, along with everything else, it fails to live up to the promise. While we spend a lot of time with these two characters their relationship is never really fleshed out beyond the opening few scenes which establish their dynamic which doesn’t change throughout.
The other characters sadly are rather bland, defined by single stock characteristics, for example, Paul is a single divorced father who loves his daughter and Tilley is a tart who only cares about sex and money. The motivations of these characters are immediately clear however this is only due to the fact they lack any complexity. This is shocking considering the amount of time we spend with them. The play runs to 2h40m and the plot doesn’t truly kick into gear until halfway through the second act which both feels like it lacks substance and is rushed. Furthermore, the final 10 minutes of the play act like an epilogue yet contains a series of unsubstantiated twists attempting to recontextualise some of the actions that have come before. This turns what would have been a satisfying, if predictable ending into a convoluted one. The long run time combined with bland characters, lack of mystery or tension and weak ending leads the brief history of kidnappings included in the program being the most interesting part of a play. This is never a good sign.
Furthermore, while functional, the blocking of the play and the sets were equally dull and indistinct. The stage design splits the set in two, with one half functioning as Sandor’s flat, the other Paul’s house. Backdrops are then placed in front of these sets to provide exterior locations. The presentation of the action across the two sets had the potential to provide great dramatic irony, increasing the tension by showing simultaneous action occurring in both locations. However, instead director Michael Lunney chooses to focus on just one set at a time, in long drawn out scenes which often lack focus. This is all systematic of the lack of ambition in the play.
The performances across the board are similarly function, however limited by a poor script and painful dialogue. Joe Eyre does however particularly standout channelling the highly educated psychopath architype which his character Sandor embodies.
Overall, Gallowglass is not worth your time of money considering the vast array of performances out there. This a shame considering the potential which exists within the story and well-regarded source material.