The Hang of the Gaol, Brockley Jack 1 October


This is a play written by Howard Barker.  It was first performed in 1978 when there was, strangely enough, a Labour Government.  I think it is meant to tell us that England is an old bitch gone in the teeth.

The ingenuous young bureaucrat Ponting, having got a little excited at the thought of going some questioning, says Disorientate them at the beginning and they’ll soon be squirming, and that recipe worked on me.

At the start of the play, four characters came on stage to react to Middenhurst Gaol burning down and I had no idea what they were saying!. After a while, it became clear that this was not a naturalistic rendition of what these people might say in these circumstances, but rather something self-consciously poetic.  And I found I could follow Senior Officer Udy (Mark Lisseman) and sometimes Jane Cooper the Governor’s wife (Maggi-Anne Lowe), but I had no idea what Chief Officer Whip (Matthew Forsythe) was saying in his Ulster accent, and even less as regards Governor Cooper (Adam Lewis).

As things went on, I could more or less follow what people were saying, and they seemed just to be belabouring the old bitch point at great length.  Once I realised that Jardine (Alan Thorpe) was meant to be  talking with an Australian accent, that made him easier to follow.  Then I had some difficulty in following Turk (Matthew Eaton), but he was meant to be incoherent at least sometimes.

The audience of about 20 or 25 souls certainly enjoyed the rough humour, particularly the camp interplay 0f the Fire Inspectors Bloon (Darren Benedict) and Dockerill (Sam Raffal).  These two were also perfect in their lines, and so was Anne-Marie Hughes, who inhabited her character as put upon 2 i/c and sex object to the disinhibited Jardine most convincingly.

The staging was I thought clear and effective–I was a bit worried by the heap of wood in the middle of the stage, but the action choreographed itself around it smoothly enough.  There was one moment at the end of the penultimate scene where Ponting announced that he had returned to civilisation from the moors to be dangerous, whereupon the scene abruptly ended–surely a second or two of reaction or indifference would have been better?

By contrast, there was also a lovely scene between the indomitably excellent Matheson of Anne-Marie Hughes and the effective if not always word-perfect Lady Cooper of Maggi-Anne Lowe that effortlessly took in sex, colonialism, sex, the class system, politics and more sex…’Effective but not always word-perfect’ also covers Julian Bird as Home Secretary Stagg, who was a commanding presence but had some difficulties with what he was meant to be saying–but hard to blame him in the case of

Mac manufacturers have to make do with ‘Esquire’

I think.

Update:  There’s a ticket offer for this show on

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3 Responses to “The Hang of the Gaol, Brockley Jack 1 October”

  1. Anon Says:

    Are you sure Jardine was supposed to be Australian?

    • notesofanidealist Says:

      I believe I heard a reference to that effect. That belief made it easier for me to understand what the actor was saying.

  2. Matthew James Havers Says:

    What a load of rubbish. How can you claim to not understand a play and then comment on the actors being word perfect??
    You show no knowledge of theatre practises with regards dramatic effects such as the cut off after Pontings re-entrance. And if you do have knowledge then i would reccommend re-training.
    Whip is a manic sadist! And Matthew Forsythe portrays this briliantly, yet you condem him because he’s irish and feel the audience should be spoon fed.
    I really suggest you google ‘Howard Barker’ and ‘Theatre Of Castastrophe’ before unwisely and publicly commenting on it.

    I am a huge Howard Barker fan and was very excited to go see this show as i was fortunate (and sadly old enough) to see the RSC version. I believe Jardine was Scottish originally, but his change of history bares no hinderance to his character so i very much doubt you would have followed Fulton McKay (the original Jardine) any more, in fact less no doubt. There two show are completely different in their approach, but both worthy contenders for Barkers approval in my opinion.

    In googling the show to get tickets, i saw they had earned a 5star review, which was very nice for them, and then noticed this ‘review’ also. Not normally one to disparage peoples opinions, this is on a public forum and i feel it an unneccessary rambling against a play. So after much help from my son have added my view aswell, which is only fair.

    A great production in my eyes, is it worth 5 stars? possibly more of a 3/4 given its nature. But definitely nothing less, and definitely worth its ticket price considering the drivel on the West End these days.

    Thank you for reading,

    Matthew Havers

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