AFTER THE ACCIDENT
by Julian Armitstead.
REM Projects and The North Wall Tour to 18 June 2011.
Runs 1hr 5min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 April at The North Wall Oxford.
Economically-realised miracle of a production where humanity shines through all three characters.
In the maze of short-stop tours zigzagging the country it’s easy to miss a gem like this. Especially as any description screams ‘issue-based’ at you. Which means (unless it’s your issue) a threat of worthy tedium. And the background is hardly unfamiliar. A tearaway teenager has driven a stolen car into an oncoming vehicle, killing his friend and the daughter of the other car’s wealthy driver. Cue class conflict, cue the slow trudge through negative emotions towards a kind of reconciliation. Been there, seen it, lost the T-shirt.
But Julian Armitstead’s script focuses on independently-imagined individuals, assessing carefully how the core intent of the meeting at his play’s centre – offender-meets-victim Restorative Justice – is distracted by inevitable side matters. Character interaction alternates direct to-audience speech, with responses in the meeting explored through thought processes, helping narrative development and dramatic momentum.
Three impeccable performances realise Caroline Hunt’s scrupulous, clear production. Casting itself questions audience expectations. Told the characters are wealthy businessman, wife and verbally aggressive teenager, and that one of the actors is Black, which would you guess the Black actor plays?
Though there’s no suggestion that Petra is Black, Frances Ashman playing her, is. She’s also on the youthful side for the character. It provides a kind of alienation effect, stripping away any danger of a petulantly privileged bourgeois and showing in her deeply-felt intensity, nervous outrage against young Leon – and her husband when he seems to concede anything.
It helps strip-away class expectations about people in gated communities – when Petra talks of having moved to one to bring her daughter up in safety, the humanity is direct, avoiding the risk of pushing audiences to side with socially disadvantaged young Leon.
It’s no criticism of James Kozlowski to say his Leon doesn’t show the lean meanness common among young criminals. His self-analysis of guilt, sense of suffering and counter-arguments are well-handled in a character where crime or accident brings consequences that accentuate his disadvantage. And Richard Stacey makes Jimmy’s contained rage and self-questioning compatible, with reflective regret in narrative sections contrasting the anger that occasionally bursts through his calm exterior elsewhere.
Petra: Frances Ashman.
Leon: James Kozlowski.
Jimmy: Richard Stacey.
Director: Caroline Hunt.
Designer: Katie Sykes.
Lighting: Aaron J Dootson.
Composer: John O’Hara.