Review: Charlie Peace: His Amazing Life and Astounding Legend

Norman Pace and Peter Duncan in Charlie Peace
Norman Pace and Peter Duncan in Charlie Peace

The audience at Nottingham Playhouse is very much part of its new production, Charlie Peace: His Amazing Life and Astounding Legend.

From the start we are informed by Showman Norman Pace (of Hale and Pace fame), that we are at Goose Fair back in the 19th century and are about to see his show, the story of the infamous burglar and murderer, Charlie Peace.

A slice of audience participation ensues as the characters - including Charlie himself, who is about to be hanged for his crimes - enquire as to how much of the tale we want to hear. Then we are off, delving into the biography of the legendary criminal.

We see how Charlie ‘earns’ his living sneaking into houses to help himself to people’s possessions, and former Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan, as Charlie, displays some impressive rope skills as he lowers himself in and out of posh properties.

The play, written by Nottingham playwright Michael Eaton, charts Charlie’s life from its Sheffield beginnings to the various cities that he fled to under different disguises when a ‘Wanted’ sign appeared above his head.

Nottingham and London are the two key locations he stops in and he goes out on nightly raids of the homes of wealthy residents, while still having time to make various romantic attachments.

Peter Duncan is an excellent Charlie, managing to make him almost endearing and able to justify his actions - quite astounding when you think about the foul deeds he has committed.

Music plays a big part in the show and the folk songs performed by the actors add extra interest to the script and hark back to the Victorian era.

The theatre set deserves special praise. Designed by Barney George and with graphics by Eddie Campbell, it helps the action move flawlessly from scene to scene.

Clever use of projection means the set switches from house to house with ease, while the Victorian-style illustrations add to the vintage feel.

A bit of darting into the auditorium by the characters also makes the stage feel even bigger and means you feel almost part of the story.

The play is a good night’s entertainment and the whole package is an enjoyable spectacle.

The only slight criticism I would make is that I would like it to explore the mind of this legendary figure a little more and maybe give more context about life in Victorian times and how his crimes were reported and considered by society at the time.

Maybe that is asking too much in the limited time of a play though and does not take away from a good production performed by a strong cast.

Charlie Peace: His Amazing Life and Astounding Legend is on at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 19th October.