REVIEW: Peter Grimes

Mark Danciger enjoyed Peter Grimes, a beautifully designed piece of student writing.

ADC ADC Mainshow Comedy Corpus Playroom Drama george crabbe joe winters peter grimes poetry

Peter Grimes is a difficult sell.

A student-written adaption of the classic George Crabbe poem (and subsequent Britten opera) about the deaths of several children in an early 20th-century fishing town, it is hardly the type of crowd-pleaser typically programmed as an ADC mainshow. This was painfully apparent in the almost embarrassingly sparse audience in the theatre.

Photo Credit: Daniel Karaj

This is a real shame—Peter Grimes is an intelligent and thought-provoking production, based on a well-crafted script and impeccably designed, which, though not perfect, deserves larger audiences than it is getting.

Photo Credit: Daniel Karaj

The story of Peter Grimes revolves around the eponymous fisherman (Louis Norris), who has been charged with the death of a boy aboard his ship. As the townsfolk turn against him, he looks to take a new apprentice (Tom Ingham), against the wishes of the boy’s mother (and Peter’s fiance), Mary (Em Miles). But a storm is brewing for Peter, both literally and figuratively.

For a student written piece, the script is remarkably subtle. Writer-director Joe Winters’ script rarely strays into cliche or unnecessary exposition, but instead focuses on the emotions felt by the protagonists. However, this emotional honesty comes at a cost. The frequent lengthy soliloquies often lead to pacing problems, particularly in the second act. In particular, it disappointingly fizzles out at the end, which was a shame as some of the earlier scenes created tension beautifully.

Photo Credit: Daniel Karaj

Central to realising the script were three convincing and powerful performances by Norris, Ingham and Miles. Norris’ performance, in particular, was perfectly judged throughout, transitioning from vulnerability to sinister malice with ease. Impressively, this is Norris’ first starring role in a mainshow—he adapts to the limelight with ease, and we should expect to see him on the stage more and more frequently as he gains confidence.

Whilst the core performances were strong, they were occasionally let down by an underused chorus. Though effective when playing individual roles as members of the harbour community, when working as a chorus they were ineffective, and their chanting and elements of physical theatre added little to the production.

Photo Credit: Daniel Karaj

The greatest strength of Peter Grimes is the production design. The set, designed by the director and realised in exquisite detail by Technical Director Theo Haymann, is astonishing—the bones of a large wooden shack take up a menacing presence in the centre of the stage and works well with the blocking of the show.

Even the impressive set, however, is eclipsed by the gorgeous and evocative lighting design by Sam Payne. Moonlight pierces through the wooden slats of the set, whilst stormy blues and purples wash over the stage. Somehow the lighting manages to be both stylised and naturalistic simultaneously, an impressive feat.

Though far from a perfect show, Peter Grimes is certainly worth a watch. It’s intelligently written script and spellbinding production design deserve far larger audiences than the show received on opening night.

4/5 stars