THEATRE REVIEW - John Newton - Amazing Grace, South Holland Centre, Spalding

Ben Kessell (left), Rachel Benson and other cast members of Saltmine Theatre Company's John Newton-Amazing Grace at South Holland Centre, Spalding.
Ben Kessell (left), Rachel Benson and other cast members of Saltmine Theatre Company's John Newton-Amazing Grace at South Holland Centre, Spalding.
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From slave trader’s servant to soul winner

The life of sailor, slave ship captain, hymn writer and abolitionist John Newton was vividly dramatised by Saltmine Theatre Company in Spalding on Saturday.

Ben Kessell as John Newton.

Ben Kessell as John Newton.

John Newton - Amazing Grace was a moving and inspiring account of how a naval commander’s son went from the humilitation of being flogged for desertion to the immortality of writing the most famous hymn of all, Amazing Grace.

Saltmine’s Ben Kessell played Newton, while Rachel Benson, Tom Frith, Zachary Willis and Caleb Mitchell took the supporting roles.

Together, the cast explored Newton’s hymn-writing partnership with William Cowper and alliance with William Wilberforce to help end the slave trade in 1807.

The most striking thing about the play was its use of sound effects, particularly in the depiction of a storm where Newton experienced his dramatic conversion.

Ben Kessell and Rachel Benson of Saltmine Theatre Company.

Ben Kessell and Rachel Benson of Saltmine Theatre Company.

Saltmine could pass on some tips to other theatre companies using South Holland Centre, especially in the use of headset microphones which ensured the entire cast could be heard.

In the end, the South Holland Centre audience left echoing the words of the famous hymn - “how sweet the sound.”

Talking about the show, Kessell said: “We wanted to focus on John Newton’s life and the amazing journey he had from being press-ganged into the Navy and spending some time on slave ships to giving his life to God and becoming a Christian.

“Newton actually mentored William Wilberforce for four years when Wilberforce thought of leaving politics and it was Newton who encouraged him to stay in Parliament.

“We chose a few places we hadn’t been to before to reach a wider audience with the play and Spalding isn’t somewhere Saltmine had been to for a little while.

“Our hope is that through the play, we were able to inspire all generations, faiths and beliefs with how Newton experienced God’s grace and how it enabled him to let many other people, no matter who they were and what they’d done, to experience it as well.”

Review by Winston Brown