Forgotten as a thespian; remembered as an assassin.
Strands of Virginia tobacco hang like so much ‘strange fruit’ in Gemma Patchett’s set for this play from Peter Arnott that imagines the last days of John Wilkes Booth, the killer of President Abraham Lincoln.
Booth was an actor who chose to put himself centre stage in the Ford Theater, Washington DC in April 1865 by taking a gun and a blade to rid America of what he and his fellow Confederate sympathisers saw as the embodiment of ‘Northern tyranny’. Following his murderous attack on Lincoln in the theatre’s box, he leapt on to the stage declaring ‘Sic semper tyrannis or (Thusever to tyrants!) The South is avenged!’
At some point during his escape, Booth broke his leg and took shelter in the barn of a Richard Garrett in Virginia along with a co-conspirator and admirer, Davey Herold, where he awaits accolades for his perceived heroic act, but is bitterly disabused when he reads the press reports, seeing them as ‘alternative facts’. Sound familiar? Think ‘fake news’! Plus ҫa change, plus c’est la même chose.
At a time when the world is in flux, Arnott’s play gives a timeous message on the dangers of those who hold the fanatical views that some fellow human beings are so ‘other’ as to create what the self- righteous bigot that is Booth’s character called ‘moral contagion’ among the dominant culture. His 19th century incredulity at the mere thought of a black (not the word used) President echoes 21st century incredulity for a whole different set of reasons when Donald Trump was standing for election in 2016.
Arnott’s script exposes the terrible vanity and dangerous delusional views of this man across his well -researched, drama that plays out with the help of some impressive lighting from Ross Kirkland and Chris Kelly. Booth’s narcissism is roundly mocked through a heightened mini melodrama where his story is acted out as a play within a play to great comic effect part way though by James MacKenzie as John Wilkes Booth and his sycophantic sidekick Davey played by Alex Fthenakis who, like Simon Peter, denied his hero in the end.
Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, this lunchtime drama inventively directed by Ken Alexander, hits its target with some panache.
Tuesday18 – Saturday 22 Apr, 1pm; Fri 21 Apr, 7pmage recommend 14+