Billy Budd at Southwark Playhouse
Based on the revered novella by Hermann Melville, the stage production of Billy Budd premieres at the intimate Southwark Playhouse this week. Directed by Seb Harcombe and starring RADA graduate Charlie Archer in the titular role, Billy Budd is the latest venture by up-and-coming theatre company secret/heart.
When Billy “Baby” Budd is impressed upon a royal navy ship, his hardened crewmates are taken with Billy’s innocent charm. Still there are those who would see such innocence destroyed, namely Claggart, the broken and corrupt master-of-arms. As the depth of Billy’s goodness unfolds, Claggart and the crew find themselves confronted by their own morality against an impending backdrop of war.
From a cast brimming with talent, Harcombe brings forth an affecting piece, which aptly explores our struggles with morality. The director has guided this troupe to a place of palpable trust and camaraderie, which informs their individual and ensemble performances.
Perhaps most noteworthy are the stellar Charlie Archer and Gerrard McArthur. Archer aptly captures the simple and sweet-natured young man at the centre of the play. Meanwhile McArthur brings Billy’s antithesis to life with his intense, self-loathing Claggart. McArthur’s dedication to the role is commendable, with great attention paid to the slightest shady body language and pained inflection of tone.
While this production is engaging and the story gripping, the show is not without its flaws, slight as they might be. Christopher Hammond is highly watchable as the token Irishman Daniel, but his inconsistent Irish accent often distracts from important dialogue. The immense energy exuding from the ensemble is wonderful, but occasionally goes unchecked so that scenes can move too fast and become hard to follow.
Overall, the production shows boundless potential, though it could benefit from mild polishing. A main part of the secret/heart mission statement is to create opportunities for graduate performers and Billy Budd does indeed showcase a wealth of promising young players. The show may have its hiccoughs, but this dynamic and thought-provoking production is well worth a watch.
Billy Budd is at the Southwark Playhouse until 10th August 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.