When speaking to director Rob Croser about Independent Theatre’s latest production, “Becket”, one can’t help but sense the passion that he feels for Jean Anouilh’s 1959 classic drama.

Anouilh’s play depicts England’s 12th Century power struggle between King Henry II and his once best friend, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. This famous historical battle of wills culminated in the assassination of Becket in 1170 at Canterbury Cathedral. Anouilh became renowned for writing plays dealing with maintaining integrity in a world of moral compromise, and “Beckett” is  most definitely in that mould.

The themes of power and conscience are part of what drew Mr Croser to the play – not only once, but twice. Thirty two years ago, he directed and played King Henry II in a production staged at Adelaide’s St Peter’s Cathedral. “It’s extraordinary to think that although Becket is based on events which took place in medieval Britain, and was written in the Fifties, so many of the issues that it addresses – the conflicts of power, race, religion, sex – are as real and relevant today, as they were then” says Mr Croser. “It’s about the choices that people need to make. It is also an amazingly good story.”

This version will be slightly different – updated in language by Croser and set design by Croser and David Roach, but still set in the 1100s with colourful period costumes by Sandra Davis and Julie Dillon. “The set is stylish and minimalist, like a large chess board, on which all the characters, in wonderfully lavish costumes, will play out all the extraordinary events that unfold throughout the piece.” Why a chess board as the focal point of the set? “At one point in the story, Becket prays to God and refers to himself being used a pawn on His chessboard. Also, there are many other chess references littered throughout the play.”

Mr. Croser seems to have a knack of peopling his productions with strong, excellent actors, and this show will be no exception with good, experienced performers even playing minor roles; such as regular principal players David Roach, Nicholas Ely, and Will Cox as various characters with Peta Shannon as Queen Eleanor. The rest of the ensemble features Andre Vafiadis, Caryn Rogers, Matthew Hein, Nick Wilson, Todd Gray and Shona Benson.

Young Sudanese actor Stephen Tongun is returning to the stage after a few years absence to make his Independent Theatre debut as Thomas Becket; whilst Samuel Rogers is returning to the company, having played Lola and Mario del Toro in its’ “All About My Mother”, to portray King Henry II. Rogers may perhaps be known to Adelaide audiences, having played hero Richard Hannay in the Adelaide Repertory Theatre’s production of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps’.  

“This award winning theatrical masterpiece is a gem of modern literature and this production really is a must see for any self-respecting theatre goer,” enthuses Mr, Croser. “There’s something in it for everyone: romance, politics, betrayal, suicide, murder, repressed longing, religious and racial tension and lots of smart, articulate icons of history powering astounding speeches at one another. It almost manages to out-Shakespeare Shakespeare!”

“Becket” is playing at the Odeon Theatre, Queen Street, Norwood.

Performance dates: April 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28 at 7.30pm; matinees April 22 at 4.00pm and April 28 at 2.00pm; early show April 24 at 6.30pm.

Bookings: BASS or 8272 8552 (Group concessions available).

The review of “Becket” can be found on the Theatre People website.