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A CurtainUp London Review
The Mutiny on the Bounty has been filmed several times with Fletcher Christian as the hero and Bligh as the vicious, vindictive commanding officer, played by Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard, Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins.
What we know of the actual story is that Bligh wasn't any more cruel than other commanders and less punishing than many including Admiral Lord Nelson. The Bounty was sailing to Tahiti to bring back breadfruit to see if this crop could be grown in the West Indies to feed the slaves in the colonies. While waiting for the breadfruit to get to the right stage of ripeness, the sailors were onshore in Tahiti for months and found a sexual paradise which may have been the cause of the mutiny rather than the captain's alleged conduct.
What we do know is that of the nine to go to Pitcairn, all but two of the mutineers met a sticky end, after quarrelling over women and alcohol. They had come there to escape the British navy whom they knew would pursue them and take them back for trial and probable hanging.
Richard Bean's play opens with the naval officers searching for the mutineers and then switches back to the events on Pitcairn. The nine mutineers were accompanied by Tahitians, six men, eleven women and a baby, the women having been "stolen" by enticing them on board ship and setting sail from Tahiti. The first action is the burning of the ship, the Bounty, with the implications for escape. However it was felt that the presence of the ship would have led the navy to them on this tiny island in the Pacific, just 2.2 miles from west to east.
We see them arguing over the women and the rivalry between the mutineers and the Tahitian chief. We are told that iron was so precious that the Tahitian women would sleep with a sailor for a nail but it does seem as if a very different sexual code was present among the Tahitian woman from that of 18th century England. Richard Bean wouldn't be Richard Bean if he didn't take advantage of this sexual promiscuity and show us some of the erotic dancing with phalluses that the Tahitian girls exhibited. There are warnings about the sexual nature of the performance.
Without the forces of law and order, the idyllic life starts to fall apart. Sexual jealousy develops as the Tahitian woman are not used to exclusive relationships. Fletcher Christian (Tom Morley) suspects his wife Mi Mitti (Siubhan Harrison) is pregnant by Ned Young (Ash Hunter) and we learn that the women are also ambitious for money, land and titles.
Some of the play is quite hard to follow without a text as the men have been given Tahitian names as well as their English names. There are cute and amusing moments when one of the women Mata (Cassie Layton) asks members of the audience about their own sexual proclivities. A clever twist closes the action but Bean's play left me wanting to know more about the Pitcairn islanders and the reality of their lives after the mutiny.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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