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Thief at Stage Door Theatre | Review

The classless society doesn’t exist. No matter what sort of utopia there is, there will always be people at different levels. Everyone knows it and, maybe reluctantly, acknowledges those above and below in the social scale. Or do they? In reality there is a class of people that the majority of us know about but rarely acknowledge except when it pleases us. Liam Rudden’s one act play Thief, not only says this underclass exists, but takes the audience deep into their world. I was lucky to catch the show in its limited run at the Stage Door Theatre.

Lee Fanning in Thief.
Lee Fanning in Thief.

This will not be a detailed review of the story as this is something to be experienced and not just written about.  The production starts with Sailor (Lee Fanning) running onto the stage and inviting the audience to watch him, which we do. Over the course of the next hour or so, Sailor tells us all about his life, loves and what he lives for – robbery, imprisonment, and expulsion.  He is a complicated individual who lives and thrives in the most squalid and disreputable places and has three virtues – rent, theft, and betrayal. Sailor takes us through his story from unwanted birth, through to the current day. It is a tale of a man that will not be a victim and is willing, and eager to take everything the uncaring world can throw at him.

Thief is an unusual play these days, in that it doesn’t come with trigger warnings. I think this is a master-stroke by the producers. I want my plays to enthral and surprise me with the unexpected, and this production certainly does that. Writer Liam Rudden’s Sailor is not just something that has come from an overactive imagination but are conversations the author had with real-life people who experienced the things Sailor does. As such there is a level of realism in the text that hooks you and makes you feel uncomfortable as you see this fellow human being dragged through life and somehow enjoying it.

If the writing is first-rate, then the performance by Lee Fanning is exemplary. From the moment he bounds on the stage you are hooked on Fanning’s portrayal. Normally watching a show, I’ll occasionally look away, get distracted by a noise to the side – usually some inconsiderate soul rustling sweet papers – etc, but not during Thief. Apart from the odd chuckle – Sailor can be quite amusing sometimes – you could hear the proverbial pin drop and everyone’s eyes were firmly fixed on Sailor. In fact, if I’m honest, I actually felt slightly scared to look away. Sailor is a man on the edge, and you don’t want to be the person who catches his eye and enrages him to explode. As well as a bit of fear, there was also a lot of admiration. This was a truly mesmerising tour de force of a performance. Lee really bares his soul and everything else to breathe life into Sailor and, when combined with the script, produces an engaging, deeply disturbed person who holds the audience in the palm of his hand.

At the start of the show, Liam Rudden, who also directs, tells the audience not so much to enjoy the production but to experience it. And I certainly did that. Thief is one of the best things I have seen in a while. The story and performance combine to create an amazing theatrical experience.

Sailor started out as someone who I would cross the street to avoid but, as the story played out, he turned out to be a deeply flawed and troubled human being who grabbed me on every level. In fact, and much to my surprise, I teared up at the end, and I wasn’t the only one. Unfortunately, this is a very limited run, but I do recommend you keep your eyes out because this is an experience that comes highly recommended from me.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Sailor thrives in the bars, dives and doss-houses of squalid ports. Look, you will see him. Sailor lives for robbery, imprisonment and expulsion. Be his victim. Sailor’s ‘virtues’ are simple: rent, theft, and betrayal. Join him.

Sailor is performed by Lee Fanning.

by Liam Rudden
22-25 May 2024
Stage Door Theatre


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