Sean Murray, Amanda Boxer, Nicole Dayes, Colm Gormley, Anthony Ofoegbu
“I shall never see Auld Reekie. I shall never set my foot again upon the heather. Here I am until I die, and here will I be buried. The word is out and the doom written.”
Two of the 19th Century’s greatest artists died within ten years of each other in the island paradise of Polynesia. Robert Louis Stevenson died in 1894 on Samoa, Paul Gauguin died on May 8th, 1903 on Hiva Oa.
What drove them both to travel, settle and ultimately chose to die in this remotest of places has been a longterm interest of writer and comedian Nigel Planer and in this two act work he explores their very different deaths. The term ‘long-pig’ is the name given to one eaten by cannibals. A practice that was still going on late into the 1800s in the area.
Atmospheric design by Alex Marker, lighting by James Smith and sound by Andy Evans helps director Alexander Summers capture the essence of a sultry tropical island. We feel as if we are sat on a dusty floor with the actors rather than watching them from afar; stifled by the smells of fish and oppressive heat.
The two acts bring us the death or suicide attempt of the two central characters, and their close family and friends’ part of this moment. Planer shows a skill for dialogue and interesting subject matter but it lacks a little substance, feeling more like two scenes in a play than a fully formed piece.
We watch Stevenson die (violently) of a stroke with his wife Fanny Osbourne at his side, and Gauguin attempt suicide with arsenic.
Sean Murray as both Louis and ‘Pigo’ (Gauguin) manages to create the two different personalities powerfully, although he is most hypnotic as Stevenson, with a mix of humour and Scottish vim.
The other characters, due in part to a lack of strong lines, fail to connect with the audience on such a level. The exceptions are Nicole Dayes as (an older) Teha’hamana who, in her red dress and flower behind her ear, could have walked straight out of Tahitian Women. Colm Gormley plays both Fanny Osbourne’s step-son Joe and Gauguin’s friend Ben, whose easy charm makes us wish he had more to work with.