Sunday, 17 February 2013

In Review: 'Pierrepoint - The Hangman’s Tale' at the Dukes

Presented by The Dukes and Cafe Society
in The Round at  The Dukes, Lancaster
7.45pm, Saturday 16 February 2013
Reviewed by Hannah Dial

Less than a week remains to witness Martin Oldfield’s portrayal of the legendary hangman Albert Pierrepoint at the Dukes, and I urge you to seize the opportunity as soon as possible.

The Round theatre provides an intimate and often uncomfortably close setting in which Pierrepoint, a Halifax-born pub landlord, lets you in on the grisly secrets of his ‘other job’. This is a man who is proud of his ‘anatomically perfect’ work, and holds that the client being male, female, guilty, innocent or mentally unstable has nothing to do with him. After all (he claims), he wouldn’t do it if they didn’t ask him to. He is resigning as public executioner after more than 25 years, but perhaps not for the reasons you’d expect.

Written by Peter Harrison (a fierce opponent of the death penalty himself) and directed by Kevin Dyer, ‘Pierrepoint - The Hangman’s Tale’ encourages audience members to face up to aspects of capital punishment they had probably never considered before and it definitely makes for awkward viewing. Be prepared to cringe and squirm in your seat as Pierrepoint, bold as brass, tells you exactly how it is in his line of work.

Yes, he has killed over 400 men and women, but this serial executioner is funny, personable and certainly knows how to tell a story. After you’ve lent your ears to this well-dressed, straight-talking Yorkshireman, I defy you not to warm to him. (Although little hints of doubt which creep into his narrative leave you wondering whether he really has said all he needs to say.)

Oldfield delivers an excellent performance and works The Round beautifully. It seems as if this play was written for performing in the round, and I think I would feel slightly detached from the content if I were to see the play again in a standard theatre setting. Oldfield’s performance is layered and personal; he truly is Albert Pierrepoint. Holding an audience captive for a full hour with a single character’s dialogue is no mean feat, and Oldfield rises to the occasion wonderfully.

Of course, there are always two sides to a story and, in this case, most of the other side’s time is spent... waiting. The unsettling presence of Timothy Evans (Gareth Cassidy) made me guiltily stifle a chuckle during one of Albert’s anecdotes. Though, as Pierrepoint reminds us, “there’s no need to be glum because someone’s been hanged”. However it is quite poignant that Pierrepoint does the talking. Evans is now convicted and his voice is apparently of no importance; but that does not stop him from telling his story in a starkly different way. Towards the climax of the play, one can feel the audience, lulled into a comfortable place by Albert up to this point, rapidly become tense and even visibly distressed.

Pierrepoint prides himself on being quick and calm during his executions - most of them done and dusted within a minute or two - and I feel it was no coincidence that the audience were shuffling out of the theatre at precisely 9:01pm. Spending an intense hour with the most famous executioner in Britain isn’t plain sailing, but it is definitely something I recommend you find time to do.

Hannah Dial

Pierrepoint – The Hangman’s Tale’: remaining performances nightly at The Dukes, Lancaster at 7.45pm from Tuesday 19  until Saturday 23 February with additional matinee performances at 11am on Wednesday and 1pm on Saturday.
Audio described performance:  Wednesday 20 February  7.45pm
Price £5 - £16.50.  Matinees: £8.  Concessions a further £2 off  (not including matinees)
Box Office: 01524 598500
See for all performance times, online booking and school and group discounts.
The Cafe Society website is at

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