Deptford Wives - The Corbett Theatre
I hadn't intended another night at the theatre so soon after Rebus, but I was 30 minutes away from Loughton, and only an hour to curtain for Deptford Wives, East 15 Acting School's Third Year development play. I had no idea what it was about, but that's never stopped me going to see something.
Imagine if you took a true story, threw in some Shakespearean cross dressing and deception, a dusting of star crossed lovers, 18th century sailors and a 21st century twist. Oh and make it an huge ensemble cast West End style musical too, that's important! An impressive concept for seasoned producers and performers, let alone a group of young actors still honing their craft.
Intrigued? Want to know if they pulled it off? Read on McDuff...
Based on the historical accounts of Mary Lacey, who ran away from home at the age of 19 in 1759 and became a shipwright on the HMS Sandwich disguised as a man. The show weaves various known events from Mary's life into a wonderful and at times fantastical story, contrasting the groundbreaking elements of her adventures, with today's sensibilities in our, only slightly, more enlightened times.
As seems to be the norm with East 15 productions, you enter the theatre with many of the characters already on stage, engaged in their fictional lives in some way. A very entertaining premise as not only does it give you something to watch as everyone else files in, it draws you into the world gradually, so when the action really starts you're already there.
The set was also something you could examine whilst you sat and waited, combining the wonderful beams of the Corbett Theatre, with rigging and sails, and very clever blocking on the stage floor, creating many different levels to work on, and evoking the timbers of an old ship deck. The set was then dressed with various crates and planks, which would be moved throughout the night to provide the many locations needed in this story. Combined with lighting, often emanating from within the slats of the stage blocks, the story had a solid yet flexible platform on which to tell the story.
The action starts in 1772, we know this because there's a chalk board telling us this to the left of the stage. A subtle, yet clever stage device, to clarify what point in Mary's life we are dealing with. The year would be updated at points in the story as we travel forwards and backwards in Mary's life.
We're starting in the middle of Mary's story, as she is found out, very literally revealed to be a woman, and ejected from the ship. Such a brave scene so early in the show, the unstrapping of Mary is done quite sensitively, and in places the choreography is so artful, moving from a straight unwrapping of bandages, to almost seeing the bandages orbit around her as they are removed. But this is East 15, they don't pull their punches, this is one of several scenes in the show designed to make you feel just a little uncomfortable.
Of course the other thing you notice as the action starts is that this is a musical. Very well sung and staged, with the ensemble cast switching between singing through the action, and layered and choreographed positioning, singing straight out to the crowd as the story needed it. The harmony layers were many and well delivered, and the music provided again by the cast, with every single member of cast at some point picking up an instrument. The songs wouldn't seem out of place on an "Original Cast Soundtrack" CD, and I'm sure many of them will easily become earworms - I'll let you know which ones of them stick when I get "It's all going on in Chatham" out of my head.
Most of the time the music is provided from the sides of the stage, with one very notable exception towards the end of the first act, when the entire cast bar the two main protagonists are providing the music, heading towards something inevitible (trying to not be too spoilery here). The musicians all start at the back of the stage, but by the time the scene reaches it's climax they are right there at the front with the action, and stop playing at the key moment. Almost like they are there to represent the voyeuristic audience, drawn in closer by events, but still shocked when it actually happens.
The cast are of course are excellent, I recognised a few faces from seeing Five:Eight at the Bernie Grant Centre, but special note MUST be given to Lily Sinko, playing the lead role of Mary. A very brave role to play, but done so with great gusto. Very early on there is a scene where Mary is sat with other ladies of society, and clearly doesn't fit it. The manspreading, a slight pull of the nose, folded arms and a natural swagger (even when sitting down) really sold you that Mary could so easily be mistaken for a man. You can see a lot of work and study had gone into creating the body language for this role - astounding!
This is without a doubt a show that needs a wider audience, with very little effort this would quite easily hold its own on a mainstream stage in London. The show manages to mix telling an important story, with a very entertaining package of acting, music and comedy. All in all a very enjoyable night out!