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FringeReview UK 2022


New Venture Theatre, Brighton

Genre: Drama, Fringe Theatre, Historical, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: New Venture Theatre Studio


Low Down

Directed by Mark Lester, Set Design Gabrielle Bowring, Lighting Design Dan Walker. Sound Design Ian Black, Costume Design Alice Clark, Makeup Emese Csoma,

Set Construction Simon Glazier and George Walter, Set Painting Jean Parker and Simon Glazier, Light Operation Esme Bird. Sound Operators Alice J Crouch and Carol Croft.

Props Gabrielle Bowring, and Bryony Weaver

Production and Stage Manager Gabrielle Bowring, DSM Bryony Weaver, ASM Marion Drew,

Poster and Programme Tamsin and Strat Mastoris, Production Co-ordinator Tom Kitch, Rehearsal Headshot  and Social Media James Michael Maltby, Photography Strat Mastoris, Publicity and Marketing Cairi O’Douglas, Health and Safety Ian Black.

Till June 25th.


A highwayman orders a man to stand and deliver, but the other withdrawing his own pistol asks him to bear him company. After all they’re in the same business.

Tom King introduces himself to his would-be delivery man former butcher Richard Turpin. Mickey Knighton’s King has a conscience and yet despite even violence they remain devoted friends. Alone in his condemned cell in York, Culaan Smyth’s Turpin remembers King in pained flashbacks, through the salt and smack of his language. We see him entertaining friends, aristocracy, and his other constant companion, Andy Hutchinson’s Jesuistical Priest. And refuses to recall an accident.

Barry Purchese’s Turpin draws from the strength of the writer’s many TV scripts. Hailing from those refreshing revisionist plays of the sixties and seventies, it flips authority and halos, reading Turpin by lightning. It springs dramatic surprises – there’s a brutal one at the start of Act Two; but no last-minute volte-faces, no unlicensed blinder.  Purchese believes in research truth too and though he’s unflaggingly creative Purchese won’t swerve from certain facts.

Directed by Mark Lester with a sovereign cast, Gabrielle Bowring’s Studio set in an uncluttered affair of off-whites and charcoal walls, a table, chairs, tankards, the exit door solid black. Alice Clark’s costume design dazzles with the aristocrats’ red and pale blue against the dun, white and black of the raffish classes; aided by Emese Csoma’s makeup. Dan Walker’s lighting spotlights a tenebrous cell and foot-padded night. There’s little clear day in this drama as Turpin notes. Ian Black’s sound creates a brisk envelope and chills with tollings.

Smyth orchestrates an anti-hero roughly suave – indeed eloquent – as entertainer, but hewn from his first trade; pitiless, a man too skilled in bleeding hearts though not a killer save when pistolled. He can charm Sophie Hartley’s Countess and knows she’d consent to anything. Simon Messingham’s Earl full of laisé-majesté proves, when Turpin turns on their class after much charm, what they’re made of.

There’s characterful work too from Jerry Lyne’s Jailer, furtive and ferrety, Jason Lever’s hapless George and sycophantic Pamphleteer offering a different immortality to the Priest. Amanda Harman’s blunt-talking Mary is a tiny gem of a part, all salt. Thomas Dee’s Irish jig-dancer Jack, also the finnicky Tailor, proves despite insults loyal, and Dee convinces of Jack’s warmth. As does John Everett’s portrayal of Bob, none too sharp despite his escape from transportation to America.

One striking parallel to recent writers like Martin McDonagh is the use of gallows humour way before time: literally, as in a pub the rogues foretell their deaths and their bids for broadside immortality. It’s strikingly comic proleptic irony – except some never get as far as hanging. Knighton probes King’s essential decency and there’s more than sparks between him and Turpin. He acts as the only conscience Turpin has.

Except finally one. With Hutchinson’s Priest Smyth proves Turpin has a depth his fellows can’t reach at, strangling the priest one moment, reviving him the next and talking of failed prayer. Hutchinson’s still sand patient, their relationship when alone both far more friendly ‘a fighting cock’ Turpin calls Priest, but can turn ugly too. Hutchinson remains seraphic, no easy task, stern and sweet, angling for Turpin’s soul.

Purchese doesn’t swerve Dick’s turpitude as it were: he shocks as much as he can. Yet in this Camus-like clarity as at the end of L’Etranger, Purchese through Smyth’s agency and the whole of this production, gives us a Turpin we can believe in; one more alive and conscious, perhaps than the original. Catch this sharp-witted, reflective, ever-swirling drama from a master storyteller.