Alexandra Hall, St. Luke’s in the Avenue, Kew
16 April 2015
It’s a bold move to adapt a book for the stage, and even more so to choose one from the middle of a series – a bit like leaping straight in with The Prisoner of Azkaban, and ignoring The Philosopher’s Stone. So I was a bit concerned that while watching The Shadow of Doctor Syn, based on the novel by Russell Thorndike, I would be lost as a result of not knowing the back story.
It turns out I needn’t have worried. This is an action-packed tale of smugglers, highwaymen and doomed love, directed by lifelong Doctor Syn fan, Genni Trickett, and performed by the Q2 Players – and there’s more than enough to keep the audience entertained. While it’s clear that there is more to the story, it’s not necessary to know it for the purposes of this play, which is quite capable of standing alone.
Dr Christopher Syn, the respectable vicar of Dymchurch, leads a double life as the Scarecrow, an infamous smuggler wanted for all manner of crimes. But life’s about to get complicated; not only is the French Revolution going on just across the water, but there’s a bounty on his head, and then he falls in love with the local squire’s daughter Cicely, leading him to consider giving up his life of crime and settling down with her.
Tim Goldman leads the cast, effectively playing two roles as he slips effortlessly between the mild-mannered Dr Syn and the sinister Scarecrow. (And in his scarecrow mask, he really is quite sinister – I fear I may have nightmares.) Tim Williams is hilarious as the drunken squire, while Cat Lamin gives a spirited performance as the impetuous Cicely. In fact, the whole cast seem to be having a great time, and I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Dymchurch residents as country bumpkins, living in the back of beyond and so easily outwitted by the cunning Dr Syn.
Although working with a fairly basic set, the production makes creative use of the space available, with actors entering and exiting through three different doors, and some of the more complex action taking place off-stage. Sound effects help to set the scene, whether it’s a hooting owl or the sound of the crashing waves, and fill in the gaps when we can’t see what’s going on.
The Shadow of Doctor Syn has it all: laughs, romance, sword fighting and even a tragic conclusion. Cicely’s death, protecting the man she loves, is genuinely moving and a powerful scene on which to end the play, even if it does mean a few things get left up in the air – not least, who knows about Dr Syn’s other identity and who doesn’t. The play is clearly a labour of love for its director, who’s managed to successfully distill a fairly complex story into an enjoyable two hours of theatre. And perhaps most importantly, it’s made me want to go and read the series of books from the beginning, to fill in that missing backstory.
Mary Stoakes, artsrichmond’s resident reviewer adds:
With minimal scenery ( a table and a chair) we were transported from the confines of the Alexandra Hall in 21st century Kew to the wilds of Romney Marsh and Dymchurch in the late 18th. Admirable sound effects and an eclectic choice of atmospheric music by Felicity Morgan, together with some wonderfully detailed costumes by Harriet Muir, completed the picture and made for a most enjoyable evening’s entertainment. In addition to the considerable acting talent shown by Tim Goldman, Cat Lamin and Tim Williams, mention must be made of Craig Cameron-Fisher, who stepped up for the part of Jimmie Bone at short notice when the original actor in this role broke his leg! After learning the part at short notice, Craig made a lovely highwayman with a soft centre!
The fights were exceptionally well arranged by Scott Tilley – so realistic were they that the front row of the audience feared for their lives!
This performance was touchingly dedicated to David Cooper, who died recently and who had been a great help and support to Q2 and all it members over many years. I think he would have enjoyed it!