Landlord’s chilling job

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Pierrepoint – The Hangman’s Tale, the Dukes, Lancaster

The most famous of the men who carried out these executions is Albert Pierrepoint, who retired from his grisly job in 1956 after carrying out more than 400 hangings.

Pierrepoint, whose day to day job was jovial pub landlord, firstly in Oldham and latterly in Much Hoole near Preston, is the subject of the latest production at the Dukes in Lancaster. It’s a two hander, although virtually all the dialogue is from Martin Oldfield as Pierrepoint, until the end of the play and an explosive and emotional outburst from Gareth Cassidy as Timothy Evans, the condemned man.

Oldfield has played Pierrepoint in the show for five years on and off and when he reprised it in Edinburgh last year it was to sellout shows and five-star reviews.

It’s not hard to see why. This is a powerful yet restrained performance from both men. Acted in the Round, just a couple of feet from the audience at times, you see every nuance of emotion, every twitch of a nerve, up close and personal. In a broad Lancashire accent, Pierrepoint tells us how he became Britain’s ‘official’ hangman (it was the ‘family’ business) and describes dispassionately the mundane details of how you go about ending a life as sanctioned by the law.

He considers himself as a civil servant first and foremost and Oldfield calmly chats about how the hangman takes great pride in ensuring the job is done cleanly. Break the neck. Don’t strangle.

This total lack of horror, combined with his comic tales of life as a pub landlord and his marriage to Anne, who never realised until some years into their relationship what the nature of his occasional work was, lulls the audience into an almost understanding and acceptance of what he does.

So that when the true reality hits home towards the end it is all the more upsetting, shocking and a real wake-up call.

The skilled combination of Oldfield and Cassidy under the direction of Kevin Dyer, makes for an emotional 75 minutes which poses some unsettling thoughts and questions.

Recommended – particularly for all those who unthinkingly belong to the hang and flog ‘em brigade.