by A S Byatt adapted by Juliet Forster.

Theatre Royal Studio St Leonards Place YO1 7HD To 4 May 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu 2.30pm & Sat 2pm.
Runs 1h4 45min No interval.

TICKETS: 01904 623568.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 April.

Great riches in a little room.
Novel time at the Theatre Royal, its Yorkshire season showing variety of page originals and stage adaptations. While Lawrence Sterne’s 18th-century experiment Tristram Shandy spirals into flights of main-stage fancy, Associate Director Juliet Forster has shown herself the right person in the right place in her sober, steady version of A S Byatt’s account of mid-19th century class and science.

Less ambitious than Shandy, it’s something perfect in itself. The adaptation suits the space, which is in-scale to the story and characters, showing what needs to be seen, implying the world around – both limited English society and the great world beyond, with its species to be explored.

Forster directs her adaptation at a varied pace, unhurried yet with moments of urgency where needed. The playing is pitch-perfect. At first the script’s a solo for Jonathan Race’s Rotherham-born entomologist Will, his post-Darwinian voyage ending in open disaster as his records are lost, his marriage to one of the aristocratic Alabaster girls a longer-fused matter, before he finds Matty among the Alabaster mansion’s many undefined employees.

Her surname suggests England’s new industrial character, and its scientific spirit. York’s Studio has a track-record with ’cellos and Joanna Hickman initially accompanies Adamson’s story, eclectic classical tunes creating the social world, retreating from smooth melodic lines to a pizzicato background as his thoughts develop, elsewhere underscoring atmosphere (and his journeys’ atmospherics).

As Matty becomes involved with Will’s observations of ants, Hickman proves as fine an actor as instrumentalist, while Race, occasionally creating vivid cameos of others, skilfully shows Will’s scientific enthusiasm overriding social disapproval. These two are the future, the unseen Alabasters, porcelain-skinned and marble-hearted, the myopic landed past.

Designer Anna Gooch suggests the wide world in outline behind a stack of boxes creating the outhouses where Matty and William energetically explore, finding love through scientific experiments, as shadow-play creates the ants’ behaviour.

The idea of deep love revealed after surface attractions have proved false isn’t new – it’s in David Copperfield’s Dora and Agnes – but has fresh purpose here, while the final image of purposeful love has an optimism worthy of Tennyson’s ever-striving, seeking Ulysses.

Matty Crompton: Joanna Hickman.
William Adamson: Jonathan Race.

Director: Juliet Forster.
Designer: Anna Gooch.
Lighting: Nick Duncan.
Illusion consultant: Darren Lang.
Assistant director: Juliet Styles.

2013-04-28 11:52:34

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