Minerva Theatre, Chihcester: When paradise turns brutal

Siubhan Harrison is a Tahitian queen in Richard Bean’s new play Pitcairn 
which completes its run in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre on September 20.

The play looks at the way mutineer Fletcher Christian’s dreams of establishing a South Pacific Eden descend into brutal dystopia. Siubhan plays Christian’s Tahitian wife Mi Mitti.

“Legend has it that she was six foot and very beautiful,” Siubhan says. “The higher up in the class system you were, the paler your skin, the more tattoos you had, the brighter colours you wore, the more covered up you were.

“She comes from this Tahitian background where the rules are very strict. Men and women eat separately at all times. Mi Mitti is often described as stuck-up. She thinks she is better than everyone else. She is very straight-backed. She is the ruler of the pack. She thinks she is the queen bee, and she is quite cold.”

And these are the things she brings to the marriage in her cross-cultural union with Fletcher Christian: “The customs are so different that she finds it very hard to reach across. Fletcher Christian and Mi Mitti try very hard to forge a new way of living, but essentially that’s where the downfall is. You can’t take one bit from one culture and another bit from another culture. It just doesn’t work. By the end of the play, she is very despondent and jaded and disappointed with white man’s beliefs. She has high hopes, but in the end they are dashed.”

As Siubhan says, it’s a whole new world the cast have had to enter into.

“I read up an awful lot about Tahiti and the customs and the actual mutiny. There are lots of wonderful books about it. It is just such a romantic story in some ways. There are accounts that are really quite Mills & Boon-like.

“It seems the white men were treated as gods because they had iron. They had different foods, precious things the Tahitians just didn’t have.

“But for Fletcher Christian, I think Mi Mitti represents an escape from his life on the ship. There is a freedom and a liberation the Tahitians have. They are bound by lots of rules, but certainly they have a feeling of being at one with nature, and the women were such a lure for the sailors. Mi Mitti is a princess, she is royalty and she works hard to learn English...”

In her career, Siubhan has done a mixture of musical theatre, TV and film, including From Here To Eternity (Shaftesbury Theatre), Tommy (Prince Edward Theatre) and Grease (Piccadilly Theatre).