ALCHEMY IN THE UK
by Maggie Nevill.
Nuffield Theatre University Road S)17 1TR To 29 October 2011.
Sat 3pm & 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 023 8067 1771.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 October.
Realism and fantasy cohere in a picture of modern life.
Popping briefly into the Nuffield’s autumn season is this new play by Maggie Nevill, the theatre’s unofficial playwright in residence. She’s repaid director Patrick Sandford’s belief richly in this up-to-the-minute, realistic urban fantasy.
For what it feels like to be a teenager during the new poverty, listen to Tiff’s speech. To know how it feels to be suddenly redundant in your early fifties, hear what Brian has to say. And, for an analysis of how the 1980s changed the way many people in Britain thought, lend an ear to Kelloggs’ big speech.
The main locations – a house and a recycling skip – are aptly mixed in Juliet Shillingford’s set. To establish the style, characters who haven’t met talk to each other from separate locations. This is, after all, about alchemy, fusing lives beneath a surface anarchy.
So Anne Robinson can quiz characters about their lives from a TV screen, and later emerge from a set to pursue them. So, the council skip can contain a library. But, is it a council skip any longer? Who are the father and son managing it, apparently as a private enterprise?
The play has a number of Southamptonian references, though none is necessary to enjoy it. More problematically, amid the often serious wit Nevill can take ideas further than she has led the audience; the latter part of act one risks becoming mired in dialogue that’s more debate than drama.
But mostly, she provides a stimulating flow of viewpoints which incorporate the alchemical (and in one case, chemical) feel of birth and death, as well as the links and gaps between the generation with proper names and their casually-named children.
All this is given full measure in Sandford’s finely-considered production, which itself makes the real seem numinous and the fantastic quite everyday. It’s a sign of his production’s strength that, for all the characters’ differences, each performance contributes to a sense of cohesion.
Among them, John Bowler’s Brian is a sharp-etched image of frustration that refuses to lose a grip on the everyday, while Paul Wyett’s Kelloggs has the energy of someone whose outlook is forever-Punk.
Brian: John Bowler.
Jack: Geoffrey Freshwater.
Clair: Julia Righton.
Kelloggs: Paul Wyett.
Tiff: Eleanor Yates.
Director: Patrick Sandford.
Designer: Juliet Shillingford.
Lighting: David W Kidd.
Sound: Rob Jones.