Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

That Golden Age

Rob Johnston
Breathe Out Theatre
The Swan, Dobcross and touring
14 September 2016

Mary Read and Anne Bonny were two of the most notorious pirates ever to ply the waters of the Caribbean during the early Eighteenth Century, when piracy was so rife in those clear waters that the time is often described as the “Golden Age Of Piracy”.

Commanding hundreds of men and hijacking dozens of merchant ships, it took the dedicated Government agent Jonathan Barnett, sent out especially from England at the request of the Governor of Jamaica, to call a halt to their high-seas adventures.

Some of those adventures, and the different ways in which they both ultimately paid the price for bettering men in a dangerous world men had largely invented, are recounted in this entertaining new play by Rob Johnston.

MTA nominee Rebecca Fenwick (who, with Johnston, also produced) plays Irish lawyer’s daughter-turned pirate’s wife Anne Bonny, recalling her great friend Mary Read (Mary Hooton). Deeply dissatisfied as an English publican's wife, Mary embarked instead on an extraordinary career as an, allegedly male, soldier of fortune against the Spanish in Holland before washing up in the Caribbean where, initially still disguised as a man, she determinedly set about taking over the bloody but lucrative business waged from the pirate ship Revenge by the foppish but fearsome Captain “Calico Jack” (Adam Urey).

Although Bonny was Calico Jack’s wife at the time, she formed a deep and loyal friendship with Mary, who by all accounts and especially her own, was better than any man at this perilous but thrilling business. But Barnett (Joel Parry) is driven to bring their terrifying reign to an end, by fair means or foul. Bonny winds up married, yet again, to a boring American and the fate of the imprisoned, pregnant Mary has never been conclusively established.

In Johnston’s play, the women are fearless adventurers and the men are mostly foppish fools by comparison, while the holes in the historical record allow all concerned to have no little fun with the popular notions of pirates whilst making points worth making about how the achievements of women have constantly been belittled or overlooked by historians.

It’s touring over the next few weeks to venues including The Harbour, Scarborough (September 18th), Oldham Library (September 21st), Romiley Little Theatre (September 25th), Smiths Bite-Size Theatre, Eccles (October 5th), and The Continental, Preston (October 13th), and well worth a look if it should hove to anywhere near you.

 

Reviewer: Kevin Bourke