In their first show of 2019 ‘Pint of Wine Theatre Company’ have pulled off that all-too-rare beast; a faultless British premiere of a show with a near perfect cast and exemplary – and ethical – production values that told a genuinely engaging story in a way that I don’t mind telling you had wrung me out like an emotionally drained wet sponge. I laughed like it was the first time I’d ever known humour, and cried until so many tears were streaming down my face that I just didn’t bother wiping them any more.
The show is set at the very end of the Nineteenth Century, and into the Twentieth. Anna Edson Taylor (an omnipresent Trudi Camilleri), a woman of advancing years whose child and husband have died some years previously, is striving to make a living for herself as a teacher. Failing to find pupils in a succession of towns and, one feels, leaving each before her debts catch up with her, she comes up with the idea of setting her analytical, scientific mind to the task of becoming the first woman – indeed person – to go over Niagra Falls in a barrel, and survive to tell the tale.
Well, to cut to the chase, she survives against the expectations of her manager, Frank Russell (Will Arundell) who has firmly ensconced himself in a local bar, expecting to be pulling her corpse from the foamy waters rather than the heroine of Niagra.
For a short while, she is the toast of the country, but people soon get weary of hearing about her exploits, especially as she refuses to ‘give away’ what it felt like as she went over the falls. That and the fact that she isn’t a natural public speaker and people are just…well, bored listening to her exploits.
Promoting herself at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, she unwittingly advocates a rather nervous stranger, Leon Frank Czolgosz (an excellent Conor Mcfarlane), that he should follow his dream, wherever that may lead him. Unfortunately, it leads him to shoot the incumbent US president, William McKinley…
To make matters worse her untrustworthy manager steals her barrel and employs an imposter to pretend to be her (the hilarious Emily Juler).
As she gradually falls into obscurity, not having achieved the financial security she was out to capture, the piece explores the nature of fame, and the things which an individual has to give up, or endure, to ‘feed the beast’.
If I have one very minor niggle about the show, it’s that it loses it’s way slightly towards the end of act two. You could probably cut ten minutes and improve the dramatic flow, but that’s a very minor point. Everything else about this production is exemplary, and the attention to detail such that even the band are in period dress.
Taylor died in 1921 aged 82 is not only the first woman but the first person to go over Niagra Falls and survive. It didn’t bring her all that she’d hoped, and she was buried in a paupers grave in the ‘stunters rest’ section of Niagra Falls’ Oakwood Cemetery. For all her bravery and farsightedness, the public just wasn’t ready to hear of acts of derring-do done by a woman.
- By Michael John LaChiusa
- Directed by Dominic O’Hanlon
- Musical Director Jordan Li-Smith
- Music by Michael John LaChiusa
- Cast includes: Trudi Camilleri as Anna Edson Taylor with Will Arundell, Emily Juler, Emma Ralston, Tom Blackmore, Conor McFarlane and Andrew Carter
- The Jack Studio Theatre
- Until 27th April 2019
- Time: 19:30 (running time: 2h and 20 min, including interval)