The Sins of Jack Saul

3
Above the Stag until 12th June.
By Daryl - 16th May 2016

The Sins of Jack SaulThe Sins of Jack Saul is set in Victorian London and Dublin and follows the true-life story (with songs) of our eponymous hero, Jack, who becomes the most famous rent-boy in London. With book and lyrics by Glenn Chandler – best known for the hit TV show, Taggart – and music by Charles Miller, we meet Jack at the end of his life when he comes face-to-face with the devil. We then follow Jack through his life as he bargains with the devil in a vaudevillian romp / melodrama to seek forgiveness.

And that’s really where my main concerns with this piece lie. Director Steven Dexter hasn’t quite decided what the show wants to be. At times we get glorious Dickensian dolour and grime; at times, Sweeney Todd-esque black comedy and other times high-camp – in a ‘Jerry Springer the Opera’ or ‘The Producers’ style – with characters appearing from trap doors or a high-kicking courtroom number showered in glitter. They all work on their own but don’t quite gel when they are all put together.

I also have some issues with the design and lighting. Whilst David Shields’ intricate, Escher-esque set of levels, stairwells and steps cleverly indicates the upside-down world that the characters occupy, too many times it hampers the cast members as they try to find their feet or are clearly conscious of tripping. Meanwhile Chris Withers’ lighting often leaves the actors in darkness or half-light. You may argue that this is appropriate for the seedy underworld that is Victorian Piccadilly but – call me old-fashioned – I’d still like to be able to see who is speaking or singing.

Gripes aside, the cast is very competent and eminently likeable and watchable. Jack McCann’s portrayal of Jack Saul contains the right mix of vulnerability and sexy swagger, and he possesses a fine singing voice. He is ably supported by Ciarán Bowling, Sam Chipman and Hugh O’Donnell in their various roles. Hugh O’Donnell’s portrayal of the pimp is particularly strong. Kudos too to Felicity Duncan for her playing of the female roles – moving as the mother and hilarious as the high-court judge. Michael Gonsalves is perfectly menacing as Fergus (the devil).

This is a fascinating, true-life story that is well told but ultimately as a piece of theatre it lacks any real sense of drama, intrigue or danger. The story-telling suffers from mixing too many conventions and styles and so fails to pull together as a cohesive piece of theatre.

Daryl Bennett


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