Review: Dick Turpin’s Last Ride, by Daniel O’Brien; New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich; until November 10

Dick Turpin’s Last Ride, by Daniel O’Brien; New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich; until November 10

Highwayman Dick Turpin was a housebreaker, cattle and horse thief, murderer and rapist and no more should have been heard of him after he was hanged at York in 1739. But like many a villain before and since, a novelists pen later turned him from renegade to romantic hero thus creating a legend which distorts the truth.

The play explores whether it matters that William Ainsworth (played brilliantly by Julian Harries) rewrote history, what constitutes the truth, and what part imagination plays in biography. The argument of myth versus historical truth is played out between Ainsworth, Thomas Kyll (an 18th century historian played with conviction by Richard Pepper), and an Essex publican (brought to life by Morgan Philpott) who claimed to have known Turpin.

The story of Dick Turpin from birth to death is a sorry affair. His descent into a dissolute and menacing law breaker was rapid and absolute. Pat Whymark’s dark music enhances proceedings and the stark, forbidding set is a reminder that this is an unremittingly gloomy tale.

The nearly twenty characters, including two horses, are played by just five actor-musicians who flip from one part to another with amazing dexterity. Jack Lord plays the dastardly Turpin with energetic flamboyance, supported by Loren O’Dair as his wife Jenny and, amazingly, as his famous steed Black Bess.

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Sometimes the historical time-lines became tangled, and in places the ‘cant’ slang language blunted the dialogue for those unable to study the programme beforehand, but we got the picture. Abigail Anderson’s direction of the famous ride to York was masterly, if somewhat drawn out. However, everything came neatly together at the end with Turpin getting his just deserts and then a rousing final chorus, lustily rendered.

Carol Twinch

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