Third Person Bonnie & Clyde Redux

Andrew  Westerside and Gillian Lees in Third Person Bonnie & Clyde Redux

Andrew Westerside and Gillian Lees in Third Person Bonnie & Clyde Redux. Image courtesy of Soho Theatre

Soho Theatre, 12 – 24 July 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Are you sitting comfortably? Serial bank robbery and the murder of eleven people wouldn’t exactly look at home behind the round window, but even though Proto-type’s account of Bonnie and Clyde’s lives of crime is unflinching about the facts, the entire production is suffused with the nostalgic tang of CBBC.

It has a lot to do with Andrew ‘Wes’ Westerside, who has that quiffed, pastel-shirted look and not-quite-but-nearly patronising delivery stereotypical of children’s television presenters (though he does offset that by saying “fuck” occasionally).

Then there’s the storytelling style, in which the two tellers remain out of character (or at least, not in character as our two outlaws) and represent events with Sharpie sketches on OHP transparencies, or tiny figurines, projected large on the wall for all the boys and girls to see.

In fact, even more than children’s television, what Redux calls to mind is a history lesson delivered by a pair of young, hip and progressive primary school teachers, determined not to patronise the class by editing out the sobering details.

Westerside and his compatriot Gillian Lees comment and interpret as they recount, discussing what Bonnie and Clyde might have thought or felt or said at important junctures – but their conclusions aren’t especially surprising or insightful (the pair were probably scared; maybe it was being poor that drove them to rob banks; getting shot must really hurt), so instead of revealing, the show becomes didactic.

Perhaps because that didactic storytelling style leaves the audience little to mull over, or perhaps because sitting in a theatre primes the mind to expect characters – as opposed to biographical details plus speculation – the most intriguing thing about the production is the chemistry between Lees and Westerside. “We are not lovers,” Lees proclaims right from the off; the two exchange a shy glance, knowingly performative, and the rest of the hour is spent finding excuses to touch, or to ask one another deeply personal questions that lead circuitously back to Bonnie and Clyde.

Its subtly and charmingly pulled off, for all that it is noticeably performative, but those little interactions should be one instrument in an ensemble; they shouldn’t need to carry the concert solo.

Alternate ending (which I wrote and then discarded as style over substance: I liked the simile but it didn’t represent my opinion of the show accurately enough)

Yes, that’s right, there’s always one boy at the back of the class who, even when the teachers are talking cops and robbers and stakeouts and gunfights and murder, passes notes saying “The teachers are totally doing it, pass it on.” But if Mr Westerside (sorry, Wes) and Ms Lees can’t hold that one boy’s attention even with talk of cops and robbers and so on, what does that say about their teaching?

Written by Gillian Lees and Andrew Westerside

Crew includes Peter S. Petralia (director), David McBride (lighting) and Duncan Speakerman (music)

Cast includes Gillian Lees and Andrew Westerside

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