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Alice Diamond and The Forty Thieves, The Bell Pub

Madelaine Beevers
Directed by Emma Williamson
★★★★

Pros: A unique and fascinating venue with compelling performances from all the cast.

Cons: At the end of two hours you may have a stiff neck if you sit on the front row, as it is akin to watching a tennis match at times.

Our Verdict: Impressive on all fronts and a story which could easily have been set today. A creation SOOT Theatre Company can be proud of.

Courtesy of SOOT Theatre

If you are going to write a play which is set in a pub, then where better to perform it than in an actual working pub? SOOT Theatre Company have taken up residence at The Bell Pub on Middlesex Street. It is an independently owned Victorian pub on the fringes of The City. Heading upstairs you discover an elegantly decorated room and an original bar with all the normal fixtures and fittings. This is the stage for Alice Diamond and The Forty Thieves which is set in 1955. The real life venue did create some confusion with the audience though; one person stored his city coat and briefcase on one of the bar stools, only to realise later in the play that it was needed as a prop by one of the actors!

Alice Diamond is played by Madeline Beevers (also the writer of the play and artistic director of SOOT) and is a glamorous cross between Dickens’ Fagin and Eastenders’ Angie Watts. She is the leader of a notorious and violent gang of women called The Forty Thieves. One of her loyal protégés, Maud, played by Jennie Joannides, is released from prison and the pub is holding her “welcome home party.” All fellow gang members are in attendance. All is not as Maud remembers though and as the day progresses, she discovers one of the gang members and close friend Dolly, has been brutally murdered – gangland style. There follows an evening of recrimination, fear, discovery and violence, as the gang try to discover the truth.

What is different about this play and its production is the number of actors who are on stage. For the majority of the 2 hours, there are between 8 and 10 actors on stage. With the audience also seated very close to the stage, you are made to feel part of the unfolding drama in the pub. It really works. Even with so many actors involved, the dialogue is slick and each actor still delivers their lines on time and seamlessly. This must be the result of hard work and dedication by the actors, each of whom succeed in bringing their individual characters to life.

All the actors are impressive, but perhaps the two which stand out are Madeline Beevers and Katie Pearl. They are gritty and powerful performances, Queens of the East End. They also display all the East End gangster attributes you would expect, but neither of them cross the line into cliché territory. You certainly wouldn’t want to meet their characters on a dark night down Petticoat Lane! Jennie Joannides as the prison weary Maud also puts in a strong performance and deserves a mention.

The original and unique venue, the well-rehearsed and voiced actors, the clever and twisted tale of life as an East End gangster, this play has it all. It is well worth going to experience. There is some skilled direction by Emma Williamson which could not have been easy given the number of actors. The violent ending is also very well-choreographed and will have you squirming in your seat. It is a play the whole theatre company can really be proud of.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Alice Diamond and The Forty Thieves runs until 24th April 2013.
Book online at: http://www.wegottickets.com/SkinOfOurTeethTheatre

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