Review: Bonnie & Clyde

Doncaster Playhouse
Until 14 October

I attended the opening night of Bonnie And Clyde at Doncaster Playhouse, the latest production by Waterdale. They say that crime doesn’t pay but musical theatre often begs to differ when some of its most successful productions revolve around crime and specifically murder but not every show about the subject focuses on gun crazy flappers or bloodthirsty barbers, that’s another story. With many crime themed musicals revolving around a fictional premise, there are also some shows based around real life criminals throughout history and in the early 1930s, none were as prolific as lovers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who became the subject of Frank Wildhorn and Don Black’s musical seventy-five years after the killer  couple’s reign of terror came to a bloody end on a rural Louisiana road. It’s criminals like Bonnie & Clyde that continue to be a fixture in folk legend so it’s important that their story is interpreted respectfully and that they’re both portrayed as more than just cold blooded monsters but as human beings wanting to do anything to achieve their big dreams and Waterdale successfully got that message across within the first few minutes of their grand spectacle and kicked off their second show this year with a literal bang. 

Being a small venue, I was a bit sceptical regarding whether they could stage the greatest crime love story ever told in the space they were given at first, but my doubts soon turned to dust once I saw director Meg Farrough’s creative vision in full swing. Along with assistant director Kallista Amery, they painted a picture that was instrumental in sending the audience back in time ninety years or so to the small Texas community that Bonnie and Clyde called home along with the towns they raised hell in. Blending simple country life with glitz and glamour right out of a golden age Hollywood movie, Farrough’s directorial feat was dazzling, dreamy and down to earth and it worked so well to balance Bonnie and Clyde’s criminal reality with their dream world even when the odds were stacked against them. With few dance heavy numbers, Waterdale’s latest outing didn’t have a choreographer but both Farrough and Amery added to the show’s homey element with movement direction reminiscent of a gospel choir in many church scenes and casual classic couples dancing to add to the show’s romanticism. Behind the baton was a gifted young man I personally call the only person in Melbourne’s amateur theatre circuit who’s busier than me, the multi-talented Tim Bland. In his musical director efforts for this show, Bland decided to have some fun experimenting with instrumentations reminiscent of ragtime, vaudeville and jazz as he and his trusted band brought a breath of fresh air to the musical stylings of yesteryear all the while shaping each vocalist into jazz trained singers similar to the radio stars of the era. Bland was unparalleled and upstanding like he always is in his latest conductor outing and he demonstrated that he can be given any type of score and turn it into the most majestic of symphonies to satisfy every sense. 

All the creatives who made up the cast of Bonnie & Clyde had a rather difficult job as they were tasked with portraying real life individuals who were living several decades before they were even born but sure enough, everybody on stage gave their all to their roles no matter how big or small with many doing thorough research into the lives of their counterparts. First, I give my regards to the featured players who were faithful to the production one hundred percent whether they were playing roles that ranged from law breakers to law enforcers or family/friends to foes; no matter what they side they were on, they succeeded in exploring their characters’ intentions and making them well known to the audience early on in the piece and added to the setting’s strong community aspect. On to the leads, we start with one half of the law breaking lovers, Clyde Barrow himself, Shaun Edrupt, whose sinister yet steamy and spellbinding portrayal swept the audience off their feet just like he did Bonnie’s. Despite his role’s prolifically criminal misdeeds, Edrupt got across the fact that Clyde Barrow was not an evil person like many think but a misguided boy who wanted nothing more than to be set up for life in the depression era, even if notorious mobster Al Capone was his hero and he connected with his onstage love interest as if they were lovers in reality, resulting in a performance that covered all bases necessary to play Barrow convincingly. Speaking of the couple, the young versions of Bonnie and Clyde had a total of five child performers cover the role throughout the run, Alyssia Jade, twins Diana and Isobel Cunningham, Jack Farrough and Liam Wilson and I was greeted with Jade and Farrough’s portrayals on the night I attended. From what I saw, their portrayals of their pre-crime counterparts added plenty of wonder and wisdom to the overall story like only a child can achieve effortlessly and for young creatives on the rise, this is a testament to what they can all achieve if they continue with their performance training, especially when they all delivered adorable characterisations that showcased the best of their already incredible creative skills like these. 

In portrayals of those who had a hand in upholding the laws of society and the laws of God throughout the musical’s duration, we had William Murton in the role of Ted Hilton, Xi Gui Griffin in the role of Sheriff Schmid and Kristopher Wardhana in the dual role of the judge and the preacher. Murton was charming yet conniving in his performance of a policeman who let his emotions go to his head and gave a phenomenal display on how his unrequited love for Bonnie fuelled his jealousy of Clyde and influenced his quest for both justice and good old fashioned revenge until guilt eventually took its toll on his mindset; Griffin was forceful and formidable in her portrayal of a Sheriff hot on the couple’s trail and demonstrated her character’s dedication to serve and protect in her line of work for not only the citizens of her jurisdiction but the wellbeing of her colleagues as well; Wardhana, meanwhile, was holy and honourable in their take on the judge and the preacher who spreads the word of God in both the church and the courtroom and left a lasting impact on the audience and the other characters with their soulful words. Two of the biggest standouts of the night were the tragic and truthful performances given by Kirsty Nisbet and Paige Louise Quinn as Clyde’s sister in law Blanche Barrow and Bonnie’s mother Emma Parker respectively, who both tried so desperately to be the voice of reason to save young lives to the saddest of results for both parties. Nisbet was a force to be reckoned with as she portrayed Blanche’s fierce loyalty to both the good Lord and her husband along with her good Christian values in an autobiographical fashion that had our hearts breaking when her whole world came crashing down after being caught in the middle of Bonnie and Clyde’s rampage. Quinn also had our hearts breaking as she convincingly portrayed Emma’s attachment to her daughter after illness took her husband away and we the audience could only watch helplessly as she lost her daughter, the only person she had left in her life, a little more each day long before Bonnie’s gruesome demise, giving us an authentic characterisation of Emma’s protective nature and misfortune. 

The king and queen of the night both became apparent at different times in the production but reigned supreme regardless and they were Ryan Bentley in the role of Clyde’s equally misguided brother Buck Barrow and Isabella Gangi as the world famous semi-titular Bonnie Parker herself. As soon as Bentley opened his mouth and captured Buck down to a T, we knew that we were in for a real treat because throughout Bonnie & Clyde’s run time, we got to see the lost yet loveable goof stick by his outlaw brother and his beloved wife by doing whatever it took to keep both of them happy and create the life he wanted his love to have in a performance that was proud and prestigious. Bentley had the power to hold the crowd in the palm of his hands in every scene he was present in, having us fall in love with him early on in the spectacle just as Blanche did all those years ago and had us mourning him when he was taken from us all too soon in the role of a lifetime. As for Gangi, her luscious and luminating portrayal of the ravishing redhead with big dreams of stardom who reluctantly joined the love of her life on his crime spree in order to grab the brass ring was nothing short of mastery and was so reminiscent of golden age Hollywood royalty, I felt like I was watching the forever legendary Marilyn Monroe in the flesh. Although the real life Bonnie Parker never got the chance to grace the silver screen, Gangi succeeded in presenting the fact that Bonnie still achieved the fame she so sought in life and in a characterisation that could be mistaken for one right out of the movies, she could be the next it girl herself in our theatre scene with dramatic chops that can transform into an award darling. 

Bonnie & Clyde was a real departure from Waterdale’s three previous comedic musical presentations but the company gave a stellar demonstration of the greatness they’re capable of in adapting hard hitting dramatic musicals with their latest outing. Featuring a visually satisfying combination of Hollywood glamour and theatrical magic, human performances that brought out every emotion in the book and direction that could have easily been straight out of the movies, I believe that this production has opened up a brand new chapter for Waterdale and it could have the audience coming back for more in the new year, hungry for more musical dramas as well as comedies for all the seasons to come. Special shoutout to Tim Bland and Kirsty Nisbet for their starstruck work on the spectacle as MD and Blanche respectively, also to Maddy Crowe for her chic, vintage and retro costume design, to Brent Denison and Joshua Lowe for their brilliant producers debut and to the rest of the cast and crew associated with Bonnie & Clyde for kicking off a groundbreaking theatrical season and an all new era. This is a production our amateur theatre world will remember so make sure you get your hands on some tickets without robbing or killing anyone before it closes, support the company and local theatre. Congratulations Waterdale on a successful opening night, chookas for the rest of your run and remember that this is what we call a dream.

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Lucas Ioppolo

Lucas Ioppolo

Lucas Ioppolo is a community theatre performer with a passion to bring a positive energy and encouragement to those in theatre who have gone unnoticed or underrepresented. They hope their reviews can help bring the spotlight back to a community that has helped them throughout the years.
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