Pitcairn is the South Pacific island on which Fletcher Christian landed with nine of his mutineers, twelve Tahitian women, six Tahitian men and one child. In 1808, almost twenty years later, the survivors – one mutineer, ten women and 23 children - were found by a passing American whaler. Richard Bean’s new play, Pitcairn, takes this scenario and imagines what happened in the intervening years.
On the face of it, Pitcairn would seem to be a paradise on earth. The land is incredibly fertile and the climate is balmy. Why should everyone not live in peace and harmony? Fletcher Christian wants all men to be equal (but not the women – when Ned asks him, “Do you have plans to enfranchise the women?” he replies, “Ned, I am not mad.”) However, in much the same vein as Lord of the Flies, human greed and violence take over and become the law. As Fletcher says at the end, “But I now know that the natural condition of man is violence, lechery, drunkenness, greed, suspicion and hate.” The Englishmen cannot stomach the thought of the Tahitian men being equal; disputes arise over boundaries and over women; hierarchies prevail despite the attempt at equality. Gradually, self-preservation and mistrust consume the men and, eventually, the fragile society that they have built. The final denouement creates the situation that, years later, greets the newly-landed officers and marines.
The Tahitians, although they are more sympathetically portrayed, have also brought their customs and traditions with them: the Tahitian queen, for instance, cannot bear the thought that her husband Fletcher is not the nobleman she thought he was. When a person dies, his skull is put on a stick outside his house to show inheritance. Even here, though, Bean questions whether the English way is better. Fletcher again: “The English have titles and deeds and pay lawyers. They have their ancestors’ skulls and don’t pay lawyers. We could discuss which is the better system.” (No, I don’t have a wonderful memory – the programme gives you, rather wonderfully, the full text.)
The Out Of Joint actors are all superb; cruel, funny, always convincing. A couple of the ‘Tahitians’ talk directly to the audience (be prepared if you are in the front row!) and bring a touch of humour into this dark tale. The dancing, too, is powerful and evocative. This is not a tale for the faint-hearted but it is a moving and powerful indictment of the human condition.