Adapted from Eleanor Updale’s award-winning novel, Montmorency is a good old-fashioned tale of crime, deceit and double identity, set in Victorian London.
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Fleeing across a roof one dark night, a thief crashes through a skylight to almost certain death. But after being discovered by the police, with horrific injuries, he comes into the hands of an ambitious young surgeon by the name of Doctor Robert Farcett, who makes it his mission to rebuild his shattered body.
Although sentenced to two years in Pentonville prison, the man, who takes the name of Montmorency, is frequently wheeled out as an exhibit at scientific conventions.
It’s during one of these outings that Montmorency hears about London’s new sewer system. He devises a plan to use the sewers as a route in and out of rich people’s homes on his release from prison, and use his thefts to fund a new life as a gentleman.
In prison, Montmorency spends his time learning to walk and talk like a refined gent under the tutelage of long-term inmate Frank, who is nicknamed “Freakshow” due to his various disabilities.
After his release from Pentonville, Montmorency cultivates dual identities – Scarper, the sewer rat who carries out the robberies, and Montmorency, an aristocrat who climbs up Victorian society’s ladder.
Chris Snow’s play is notable for several reasons. For starters, the set is cleverly constructed to work as a sewer, prison cell, lodging house, lecture theatre and gentlemen’s club.
Then there are the top-notch performances of a talented young cast, not least Matthew Hopkinson in the dual lead roles of Montmorency and Scarper. Philip Dunster also gives an impressive turn as the compulsive obsessive Dr Farcett.
Both actors, however, are outshone by James Blake-Butler as Frank, as he struggles with the thought of leaving his secure prison environment for real world.
Admittedly, the play’s conclusion is all too abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying but, on the whole, there’s more to commend than to criticise.
Until August 27