The story of Bonnie and Clyde, like most tales of infamy, is incredibly complex. The truth, never fully known, has been muddied by time and lost to the legend. We’re left with fragments of these outlaws from which we can build our own narrative.
Whitley College and the WARTS team should be commended for taking on the task of this musical adaptation of the Burrow gang’s tale. The approach of director Ryan Jones is entertaining, and the entire show has been arranged incredibly well – a tireless level of commitment from all involved was evident to the audience, as was, importantly, a sense of fun. No part of the play lingered, no song felt laboured. It was at its most engaging during the most frantic scenes, with actors running across the stage, the orchestra playing at full force and the audience following several storylines in the one scene.
The simple yet elegant set makes good use of the intimate space, while the backstage crew must be credited for making a show with a number of scene changes play out so flawlessly. The orchestra, tasked with somehow hiding in plain sight, played beautifully, adding to the ambience and rising tension of the show.
There were minor issues with the opening scene: a complicated and interesting musical number shifting through time and space to explain the protagonists’ backstory which failed to capitalise on what it could have been due to the audience not being able to hear the majority of dialogue over the music.
A strong cast was exemplified by some incredible individual performances. Kelsey Rettino stole the show as Blanche Barrow, bringing the humour and tragedy of a young woman stuck between two worlds. Trish (Lydia Bell) captivated the audience with her impeccable comic timing and commitment to the cause – one would hope to see more of her in future Whitley College productions. And it would be remiss of anyone who had seen this musical not to mention the tremendous voice of Claire Ferguson, who was given plenty of room to impress in her role as the Preacher.
It is important to remember that Bonnie and Clyde were just kids. Bonnie Parker was merely 23 when she was gunned down; Clyde hardly two years older. They’d grown up in the midst of the Great Depression with little hope and even fewer chances. There were times that I felt the lead characters could have been explored more completely. While the cast did well to give some gritty realism to the struggles of life on the road, the audience was ready to feel the full range of the pair’s emotions. How much of Clyde’s dreams of outlaw legacy and idolisation of Billy the Kid was the bravado of a kid scared out of his wits? Why did we have to lose Bonnie’s few fleeting moments of agency in a flood of naivety and vanity?
Whitley College’s Bonnie and Clyde is an entertaining spectacle that perhaps leaves an audience just wanting a little more.