WINNER: NODA Best Regional Drama 2017

NOMINATED FOR: 2 Eagle Awards - Best Production and Best Performance in a Play (Josh Hayes)

The iconic rebel casually struts onto stage straight from Donn Pearce's original novel. Emma Reeves' formidable adaptation resonates for new generations with its powerful story of individualism, oppression, friendship, punishment and salvation.



Cast and Creative Team

John | Phil Stanley
Mary / Lucille | Sara Evans-Bolger
Martha / Arletta | Verna Bayliss
Boss Kean / Sergeant | Mik Horvath
Curly | Jason Parker
Society Red | Adam Guest
Rabbit / Cop 2 | Jack Readyhoof
Babalugats / Matthew | Andrew Bould
Sailor | Kheenan Jones
Dragline | Ian Jones
Carr / Cop 1 | Kim Harris
Boss Godfrey / Lieutenant | Heath Parkin
Boss Paul | Pip Price
Alibi | Josh Sly
Tattoo | Ross Lowe
Captain | Steve Dunning
Luke | Josh Hayes

Director | Barry Taylor
Musical Director | Emily Marshall-Sims
Set Construction Managers | Chris Bancroft & Heath Parkin
Set Construction | Ian Tricklebank & John Miles
Sound Designers | Barry Taylor & Harry Greatorex
Fight Co-ordinator | Kheenan Jones
Photography | Chris Clarke
Replica Weapons Manager | Pip Price
Make Up & Hair | Natasha Lawer

Production Manager | Phil Simcox
Company Stage Manager | Maureen Tierney
ASM | Cat Howourth
Wardrobe / Props Manager | Marie Stone
Social Media Manager | Ben Sherwin
Health & Safety Officer | Marie Stone
Production Graphics | Marie Stone
Front of House Manager | Trudy Taylor
Company Chair | Mik Horvath


"...this group has excelled ... delivering a very demanding and complex piece of powerful and emotional drama..."

Don Pearce wrote the book which was the basis for the 1967 film starring Paul Newman and Emma Reeves wrote a stage version based not so much on the film as the original book. Set in the early 1950‘s Luke Jackson, a decorated Korean war veteran, is caught by the police for trying to steal from parking meters, arrested, sent to a Florida Correction Centre, and is soon revered by his fellow prisoners for basically being a maverick trouble-maker.

The play retrospectively tells the story of Luke but I don’t feel this aspect was sufficiently emphasized which added, for me, to a somewhat confusing first Act which I also felt was quite ponderous, definitely due to the script and not the acting. However, the action, the emotions, the conflicts between the characters, the powerful interpretations and imagery in Act 2, certainly made up for this.

The part of Luke, who incidentally got the nickname ‘Cool Hand’ from his prowess at poker, was wonderfully played by Josh Hayes. He superbly captured all the elements of this somewhat charismatic, complex character – the stubbornness, the anger, the frustrations, the rebelliousness, the defiance – it was a truly great performance. Another superb portrayal came from Ian Jones as Dragline the ‘top dog’ and hardened prison inmate. He tries every way to undermine Luke but after Luke’s refusal to ‘submit’ during their boxing match, he ends up admiring and respecting him and even escapes with him. At this point I must say that this boxing match was just so realistic, the punches really did appear to connect and the way in which Luke repeatedly hit the deck and then staggered up again to take more punishment was exceptional. What a terrific job the fight co-ordinator, Kheenan Jones, and of course Josh and Ian did to manage this so brilliantly.

All of the other eight inmates were splendid and each had their own idiosyncrasies which were impeccably carried out. Jason Parker (Curly), how angry was he! Kheenan Jones (Sailor), Jack Readyhoof (Rabbit) – loved his banjo playing – Adam Guest (Society Red), Josh C Sly (Alibi Gibson), Ross Lowe (Tattoo), Andrew Bould (Babalugats) and Kim Harris (Carr). Mik Horvath commanded the stage as Boss Kean – nobody messed with him. Steve Dunning gave a fine performance as the man in charge. He was powerful yet quietly unnerving as the manipulative sadistic Captain but cross him at your peril, as did Luke, and he certainly unleashed, up till this point well hidden, his totally brutal and savage nature. Good support came from Pip Price as Boss Paul and the silent, but menacingly Heath Parkin, as Boss Godfrey. Paul Stanley as John the Preacher along with two Salvation Army ladies, Verna Bayliss as Martha and Sara Bolger-Evans as Mary, exquisitely sang gospels and soul music at various points in the show. Verna also gave a moving performance as Luke’s mother and bikini clad Sara lapped up the sun knowingly tormenting the prisoners whilst they were out working.

The escapes by Luke were well orchestrated and good use was made of the central aisle of the auditorium for his escapes and recaptures. A scene that had virtually everyone enthralled was the one where Luke takes a bet that he can eat fifty boiled eggs. This was so well and innovatively executed that you believed that it actually had been accomplished. The set and props were very impressive allowing for the different locations to be swiftly brought into focus, in the main achieved by the well disciplined cast members themselves.

Adding to the whole ambience was the excellent lighting plot, wonderful music, which was played throughout, and appropriate costumes. Once again, this group has excelled in masterfully delivering a very demanding and complex piece of powerful and emotional drama.

Congratulations must go to the Director, Barry Taylor, to the whole team and to a terrific group of actors.

Joyce Handbury

This production is a mix of the film version, starring Paul Newman, and the Donn Pearce book, and I must admit, I’ve never read the book nor seen the film , so this stage adaptation by Emma Reeves is a new one for me.

I didn’t know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised.

Beneath a scorching Florida sun, Boss Godfrey watches the chain gang and keeps his eye on Cool Hand Luke – war hero, trouble-maker, and inspiration to his fellow inmates – just the kind of man the Boss wants to crush. He’ll always get back up after a beating. He’ll eat fifty eggs in an hour to win a bet. A man who won’t conform no matter what the cost.

Working backwards in time we’re teased into the “Cool Hand Luke” story, but without giving anything away. The story is based on Pearce’s own experiences of being in jail and his own Luke, which is what makes this story such an impelling one.

The whole cast interacted well with each other and the camaraderie of the chain gang was completely believable and admirable in their brotherhood.

The captain and the “bosses” distanced themselves well from the band of brothers creating a “them and us” separation. Playing the iconic Paul Newman role is Josh Hayes. he may not have the blue eyes (I don’t think) but he certainly had the cheek and charisma for the role. Ross Lowe (Tattoo), Adam Guest (Society Red), Ian Jones (Dragline), Jason Parker (Curly), Josh C Sly (“Alibi” Gibson), Andrew Bould(Babalugats/Matthew), Kim Harris (Carr). Jack Readyhoof (Rabbit) and Kheenan Jones (Sailor) were, as usual excellent in the characterisation of the roles and the accents were varied, which would be what you’d expect from a chain gang collected from the many states.As previously said, great camaraderie, which works well because most of the actors have worked with each other before and that camaraderie works well offstage as well as on.

Mik Horvath (Boss Kean), Heath Parkin (Boss Godfrey), Pip Price (Boss Paul) and Steve Dunning (Captain) ruled over the men with a level of sadistic pleasure and Heath, even though he has no words to say managed to create that mysterious as well as dangerous atmosphere. Never trust a man who hides behind his shades!

Phil Stanley (John the Preacher) has a voice made for gospel and soul and along with Verna Bayliss (Martha), and Sara Bolger-Evans (Mary) the Salvation Army ladies, the trio created that Southern Gospel belt sound which added so much to the atmosphere of the play. Emily Marshall-Sims is Musical Director.

Verna also doubled as Arletta, Luke’s mother, and Sara doubled as Lucille, the woman who got the men in the chain gang all hot and bothered by sunbathing. in the film Lucille was washing cars

The make-up, by Natasha Lawer, is very realistic as Luke is covered in bruises and blood from his boxing match with Dragline and from when he is caught after one of his escapes.

Talking of fights, this has to be one of the most realistically co-ordinated fight sections in the boxing match that I have seen on stage. I found myself wincing as the blows were delivered and seemingly making contact, They also sounded like they were making contact which is sometimes not thought out when working out scenes like this. The timing was excellent from both actors and the fight choreography by Kheenan Jones was excellent.

The other big scene is the boiled egg eating scene which again was done wonderfully. I tried to see where those eggs were going because surely Josh wasn’t really going to eat all 50 eggs was he? Well I didn’t see what happened to the eggs so if there was a sleight of hand, you fooled me!

The set was very good and moved around by the cast themselves, making sure that the only people on the stage were the cast. And even in the interval when they came on to change the set, they all kept in character, always aware that they were on show and people will be watching, so not breaking the character continued from Act One to Act Two. Barry Taylor has directed a massive hit here and the idea to make part of the “digging” scenes in slow motion to give the impression of the long working day was a clever piece of theatre. Lighting Designer is Stephen Greatorex and the Sound Design is by Barry Taylor and Harry Greatorex. i loved the music played throughout the play, ranging from Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb to Gene Autrey, some classic Country & Western tracks from the 1940’s.

There’s so much in this play which makes it a resounding success which is why you need to pop along to the Guildhall Theatre in Derby to take in this classic. When everything comes together as good as it does, this is the result you get, and there’s absolutely no failure in communicating what a good production this is.

“Cool Hand Luke” is at Derby’s Guildhall Theatre until Saturday 18 November 2017. It’s eggcellent!

“I thought the play last night was absolutely excellent in every way…..I was spellbound – the pace was superb, the way you handled the set, very high standard of acting, use of auditorium etc, etc….”

“It was brilliant. Powerful performances from everyone and so exciting to see a play that is so rarely seen.”

“Well done to the huge and talented Fourblokes Theatre Company’s production of Cool Hand Luke. Not a story that would usually have appealed to me but I loved the world you created and everyone played such believable characters.”