by Peter Nichols.

Liverpool Playhouse Williamson Square L1 1EL To 27 April.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu 1.30pm & Sat 2pm.
Captioned 27 Apr 2pm.

then Rose Theatre 24-26 High Street KT1 1HL 30 April-18 May 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm except 1 May 7pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 9 May 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1pm), 15 May (+ Touch Tour 6pm).
BSL Signed 17 May.
Captioned 10 May.
TICKETS: 08444 821556.
www.rosetheatrekingston.org (booking fee by ‘phone and online).

Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 April.

Comedy hides character and things look too distorted all round.
Some day I hope to see a production of Peter Nichols’ first stage success which makes the impact of my first viewing, a repertory production in a now-demolished theatre. The main problem with Stephen Unwin’s revival, opening in Liverpool before moving to his own theatre in Kingston, is shared with the recent revival at the play’s birthplace, Glasgow Citizens.

Both Miles Jupp (Glasgow) and Ralf Little (Liverpool/Kingston) bring a comedian’s skills to Bri, the disillusioned teacher whose 11-year old daughter Joe has cerebral palsy. Mired in irony, Bri turns to extremes. Nichols confronts this, but doesn’t judge, while his play’s form reflects Bri’s sense of dissolution.

The action starts, stops, recommences. Characters talk to the audience. The play depends upon Nichols’ skill in knitting the various styles and tones into a pattern. Which makes the casting of Bri crucial.

Many audience members loved Little’s comically incisive delivery. Yet – as with the less openly forceful Jupp – there’s none of the complex hinterland behind the words.

The contrast’s clear in scenes with Rebecca Johnson’s Sheila, Bri’s wife. Johnson creates a narrative of Sheila’s feelings, making clear developments and shifts from moment to moment. With Bri everything seems pre-packed for delivery.

And the play was written for a theatre and society now long past; Bri nowadays can easily appear as opinionated as Look Back in Anger’s Jimmy Porter from the previous decade. Despite his underlying fury, it’s harder to sympathise with all the putdowns and suspicions now, while the wealthy Freddie wouldn’t be proclaiming himself a socialist, but New Labour, and Sally Tatum’s Pamela might well have spoken up more.

It’s a sign of how sensitive a performer Marjorie Yates is that a character not far from the stock mother-in-law seems so fresh and interesting.

Unwin’s also uncharacteristically stylised in the setting Simon Higlett’s provided: bright yellow walls at crazy angles, unnatural clutter everywhere. Yet, if everything on stage is so crazy, the family’s situation seems normal.

But nothing can take from Nichols’ moment when Jessica Bastick-Vines, breaking from her scrupulously-played Joe, takes charge, faculties fully functioning, to announce the interval.

Joe: Jessica Bastick-Vines.
Sheila: Rebecca Johnson.
Bri: Ralf Little.
Freddie: Owen Oakeshott.
Pamela: Sally Tatum.
Grace: Marjorie Yates.

Director: Stephen Unwin.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Paul Anderson.
Sound: John Leonard.
Composer: Corin Buckeridge.
Assistant director: Alice Hamilton.

2013-04-30 09:20:03

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