Dramatic, sexy and thrilling, Shotgun Theatre brings to the stage of Exeter Phoenix a production about the iconic criminal duo that captured America’s hearts in the 30s. Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow start off as young teens full of ambitions and craving for fame and admiration. Trapped in America’s Great Depression, the two fell in love as young adults and turned to stealing and killing to achieve their dreams.
The production puts on a convincing performance, with the help of a versatile wooden set and the emblematic car, a symbol of the couple’s passion and deviance. The scene changes allow the play to flow nicely, however, the set is slightly let down by the costumes. An impressive contribution was provided by the band who, taking up one third of the stage, perform a brilliant jazzy soundtrack and accompany the cast with dramatic and sensual songs, such as “Raise a Little Hell” and “How about a Dance”. It is with the slow melody of “Dying ain’t so Bad”, however, that the audience is captured by the melancholic yet empowering tune that portrays the epitome of romantic love, with lyrics such as “Dyin’ ain’t so bad, not if you both go together”. This dramatic song is performed with deep emotion and striking vocal capabilities by Darcie Cochrane, who plays Bonnie. Cochrane is not only wonderful in her singing performance, hitting almost every note, but manages to deliver an authentically conflicted Bonnie, torn between reason and romance. Her character is transparent from start to finish, portraying a deep and passionate love, as well as a young woman who is increasingly enchanted by the allure of fame. When the newspaper describes her as a “breath-taking brunette” and publishes her poem, the innocent girl is left behind, and the iconic bandit rises in her place.
Although not reaching Cochrane’s level of vocal capabilities, Charlie Renwick, accompanies her as a powerful and realistic Clyde. His portrayal of the character clearly presents how the conditions of America at the time pushed him towards choosing criminality to achieve the “American Dream”. His performance is also enriched by the paradox of having his younger self as a parallel stage presence. While the younger Clyde, enveloped in his innocence, narrates future dreams of wanting to be a renowned outlaw like Al Capone, the older Clyde presents the dream unravelling and the cruelty of reality. The duo have an effective chemistry that, parallel to the effect on American society, elicits the sympathy and compassion of the audience, rooting for them from start to finish.
Intensifying the romance, a second couple is brought to share the stage with the iconic duo; Buck Barrow, played by Macauley Keeper, and Blanche Barrow played by Sacha Mulley. The caring couple satisfies the audience’s need for comic relief but also exposes the true destructive nature of the protagonists’ actions. Ultimately, the strong and wise character of Blanche is the only one able to see through the lies of the American dream. However, she remains almost an antagonistic character and is unable to prevent the tragic fate she had predicted for her husband.
A particularly fascinating moment was the provocative scene which placed the religious chorus singing “God’s Arms are Always Open” in contrast with Clyde robbing and killing. This juxtaposition of the sacred and profane creates a true reflection of an era where individuals, placed in atrocious conditions, were losing their faith.
Overall Shotgun Theatre’s production of Bonnie and Clyde, directed by Bridie Shine, provides a decent illustration of an America that has lost hope and dreams, and clings to the embellished image of a couple of thieves who wanted to find another way to reach the top. With all our popular culture and celebrities, it can be argued that not much has changed and that maybe the world will always need charismatic individuals to look up to, to escape our lives.
Bonnie & Clyde continues to be performed at Exeter Phoenix until Thursday 17th January.