Revenants @ Pleasance Dome

A timely play with compelling themes and performances

Review by Deborah Klayman | 14 Aug 2018

Set in 1943, 25 years after the murder of the Romanovs and 25 years before the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr, Nichola McAuliffe’s timely play Revenants, about the nature of prejudice, oppression and uprising, draws stark parallels between different periods in history.

As Queen Mary (McAuliffe), her Jamaican chauffeur Walcott (Peter Straker) and the actor Ernest Thesiger (Kevin Moore) commemorate the Russian Royal family’s deaths, they are interrupted by GI Monk (Tok Stephen), a young black American who has been a victim of racial segregation. Monk is hell-bent on revenge, and the following interactions between the four highlight the enduring nature of racism, sexism and homophobia.

The use of music in the piece is significant and impactful, particularly Straker’s charged rendition of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and Monk’s reaction to Haydn. As always in McAuliffe’s work there are spectacular one-liners and plenty of dark humour, and the ending is unexpected and affecting.

Guilt is an overriding theme alongside questions about complicity, silence and revenge. Revolutions have consequences, and so too do both our actions and inaction. Monk’s railing against racism but intolerance of Thesiger’s homosexuality is an interesting thread, but is only superficially pulled as the soldier seems to go through a very quick conversion to tie up that loose end.

Throughout the piece, McAuliffe presents a beautifully observed and poised Mary, while newcomer Stephen gives a sterling performance as the conflicted GI. Despite its strengths, however, Revenants does feel stilted and contrived at times, with the historic exposition slowing the plot development. The comparisons drawn between eras are strong and compelling, but it often feels too much is being crammed into a 90 minute serving. 

Revenants, Pleasance Dome (KingDome), 1-27 Aug (not 8, 15), £9.50-12.50

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