Like Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Charlie Peace is not a likeable character.
The son of a fairground lion tamer was a notorious 19th century cat burglar who went on to shoot his lover’s husband in November 1876 and a policeman at his last robbery in Blackheath.
After his execution Sheffield-born Charlie achieved legendary status and a wax work in Madame Tussauds.
An exuberant Peter Duncan lights up the B2 stage as this nimble real-life Victorian anti-hero and womaniser, whose odd quirks include wooing his married American mistress Katherine Dyson playing a one-stringed violin and winning over Nottingham songbird Susan Thompson with a ventriloquists’ dummy.
On the run Charlie even moves Susan in with his long-suffering wife Hannah, who he pretends to be his mother.
Sympathy lies with the women caught up in Charlie’s web of lies and deceit. Talented Nottingham actress Bridie Higson plays both Katherine and Susan; while Game of Thrones actress Mia Soteriou is Hannah.
But this is not serious drama, more of a comic musical melodrama, written by Nottingham screenwriter Michael Eaton, who grew up hearing stories of the Victorian villain from Narrow Marsh as a child.
Norman Pace is excellent as the fairground showman presenting the story of Charlie Peace’s life with a small cast of versatile actor-musicians who sing and play Victorian parlour songs, hymns and folk on euphonium, fiddles and keyboard.
The cast make full use of the B2 space – Norman interacts with the audience and there are police chases and searches in the aisles.
What is particularly clever is how Barney George’s visually stunning fairground theatre design transforms with Eddie Campbell’s vivid graphic video projections from Victorian terrace to train carriage and courtroom.
Quirky, entertaining, and amusing.
Runs until Saturday.