“Cool Hand Luke” by Fourblokes Theatre Company
Guildhall Theatre, Derby.
Guildhall Theatre, Derby.
This production is a mix of the film version, starring Paul Newman, and the Donn Pearce book, and I must admit, I’ve never read the book nor seen the film , so this stage adaptation by Emma Reeves is a new one for me.
I didn't know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised.
Beneath a scorching Florida sun, Boss Godfrey watches the chain gang and keeps his eye on Cool Hand Luke - war hero, trouble-maker, and inspiration to his fellow inmates - just the kind of man the Boss wants to crush. He'll always get back up after a beating. He'll eat fifty eggs in an hour to win a bet. A man who won't conform no matter what the cost.
Working backwards in time we're teased into the "Cool Hand Luke" story, but without giving anything away. The story is based on Pearce's own experiences of being in jail and his own Luke, which is what makes this story such an impelling one.
The whole cast interacted well with each other and the camaraderie of the chain gang was completely believable and admirable in their brotherhood.
The captain and the "bosses" distanced themselves well from the band of brothers creating a "them and us" separation.
Playing the iconic Paul Newman role is Josh Hayes. he may not have the blue eyes (I don't think) but he certainly had the cheek and charisma for the role.
Ross Lowe (Tattoo), Adam Guest (Society Red), Ian Jones (Dragline), Jason Parker (Curly), Josh C Sly ("Alibi" Gibson), Andrew Bould(Babalugats/Matthew), Kim Harris (Carr). Jack Readyhoof (Rabbit) and Kheenan Jones (Sailor) were, as usual excellent in the characterisation of the roles and the accents were varied, which would be what you'd expect from a chain gang collected from the many states.As previously said, great camaraderie, which works well because most of the actors have worked with each other before and that camaraderie works well offstage as well as on.
Mik Horvath (Boss Kean), Heath Parkin (Boss Godfrey), Pip Price (Boss Paul) and Steve Dunning (Captain) ruled over the men with a level of sadistic pleasure and Heath, even though he has no words to say managed to create that mysterious as well as dangerous atmosphere. Never trust a man who hides behind his shades!
Phil Stanley (John the Preacher) has a voice made for gospel and soul and along with Verna Bayliss (Martha), and Sara Bolger-Evans (Mary) the Salvation Army ladies, the trio created that Southern Gospel belt sound which added so much to the atmosphere of the play. Emily Marshall-Sims is Musical Director.
Verna also doubled as Arletta, Luke's mother, and Sara doubled as Lucille, the woman who got the men in the chain gang all hot and bothered by sunbathing. in the film Lucille was washing cars.
The make-up, by Natasha Lawer, is very realistic as Luke is covered in bruises and blood from his boxing match with Dragline and from when he is caught after one of his escapes.
Talking of fights, this has to be one of the most realistically co-ordinated fight sections in the boxing match that I have seen on stage. I found myself wincing as the blows were delivered and seemingly making contact, They also sounded like they were making contact which is sometimes not thought out when working out scenes like this. The timing was excellent from both actors and the fight choreography by Kheenan Jones was excellent.
The other big scene is the boiled egg eating scene which again was done wonderfully. I tried to see where those eggs were going because surely Josh wasn't really going to eat all 50 eggs was he? Well I didn't see what happened to the eggs so if there was a sleight of hand, you fooled me!
The set was very good and moved around by the cast themselves, making sure that the only people on the stage were the cast. And even in the interval when they came on to change the set, they all kept in character, always aware that they were on show and people will be watching, so not breaking the character continued from Act One to Act Two.
Barry Taylor has directed a massive hit here and the idea to make part of the "digging" scenes in slow motion to give the impression of the long working day was a clever piece of theatre.
Lighting Designer is Stephen Greatorex and the Sound Design is by Barry Taylor and Harry Greatorex. i loved the music played throughout the play, ranging from Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb to Gene Autrey, some classic Country & Western tracks from the 1940's.
There's so much in this play which makes it a resounding success which is why you need to pop along to the Guildhall Theatre in Derby to take in this classic. When everything comes together as good as it does, this is the result you get, and there's absolutely no failure in communicating what a good production this is.
“Cool Hand Luke” is at Derby’s Guildhall Theatre until Saturday 18 November 2017. It's eggcellent!