REVIEW: Rebel Angel, Old Operating Theatre Museum

This fascinating and engaging play about John Keats is wonderfully brought to life with plenty of passion.

Rebel Angel 7 - Image by Chris Nash
Johnny P Taylor as John Keats (c) Chris Nash

The Old Operating Theatre Museum proves to be a wonderfully appropriate and atmospheric location to perform Rebel Angel – making the audience feel as up close and personal to the action as it is possible to get, making full us of the intimate space.

Angus Graham-Campbell’s production of his own play is intimate and engaging thanks to  a script which is wonderfully fluid and poetic, capturing Keats’ growing passion for writing as well as capturing the grim elements of society in evidence during the 1800’s.

This is seen particularly during opening scenes of Rebel Angel during which a particularly gruesome operation  takes place with a tragic outcome that forces Keats to question whether this is a profession that he wants to be in (judging by the audience’s reaction I wasn’t the only one to flinch at this part). But the majority of the production, Rebel Angel is intriguing in the way it concentrates on how the likes of his role models such as Leigh Hunt helped to develop his writing – despite the obvious objections of his guardian Mr Abbey.

One of the most attractive elements of the production is the script, with its gorgeous use of language, such as when Keats describes the horrific moments leading up to the death of a patient – it sounds so poetic that it completely capture’s the audience’s attention and imagination.

Another strong element in the production is the effective use of lighting that softens and sharpens in a way that reflects Keats’ state of mind in a particular scene as well as creating a different atmosphere that suggests a scene change.

While there is no real sense of time scale as to when Keats first decides to leave the medical profession after passing his exams until the final confrontation he has with his guardian –  the production has great pace and energy throughout.

Leading the cast as John Keats, Jonny P Taylor delivers a passionate portrayal of the poet, filled with determination to follow his passion for writing poetry – particularly when he tries to explain to Mr Abbey (Peter Broad) why he no longer wants to become a surgeon, it is moving to see how strongly he feels about it. It is a performance that is convincing and engaging.

Meanwhile, the rest of the cast alternate a number of different characters – which can be disorientating to keep up with and shows why the play could be expanded slightly to make the most of the characters. But there is still excellent support in the form of Peter Broad as Mr Abbey, Fred Fergus and Max Marcq to add additional depth to the story.

Given the seventy odd minutes length time, it does feel as though the story is holding back; as if there are moments in the story which have been skipped over. This leaves you feeling that the play and production could be expanded slightly further.

But overall, this is a deeply fascinating and rich play that is engaging to watch in such an atmospheric location. Certainly worth a visit.

Rebel Angel continues to play at the Old Operating Theatre Museum until the 7th October. For more information and to book tickets visit:

Rating: ❤❤❤❤

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