by Chris Thompson.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Arms 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 22 February 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu, Sat, Sun 3pm (all performances sold out apart from Thu mats).
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr).
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk (no booking fees by ‘phone or online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 February.
Another triumph among the Finborough shows queuing for transfer.
‘Carthage must be destroyed’ was an Ancient Roman sound-bite. The Carthage of England’s youth criminal system is wrecked from within. What chance has Tommy, born in prison to teenager Anne, whose human jungle upbringing has left her prey to her appetites and able to respond only by aggression?
It’s also made her a mistress of manipulation, while her wild variations between affection – her fond look at her baby’s face – and abusive language to the boy when she’s under some substance’s influence, make her a disastrous parent. She hasn’t the training the prison-workers have, notably Lisa Palfrey’s Sue, who’s heard it all before and has a dry wit ready to respond.
Tommy’s fate is known even before we’ve seen him pre-birth. Formal inquiries and trials hover behind the action as personal tussles take centre-stage in Robert Hastie’s urgent, minimalist production, a no-frills affair where every detail tells through a series of magnificent central performances.
Toby Wharton’s prison officer Marcus follows procedure and is convinced he’s right. We learn what the jury thought in an institutional world where defences can be prepared effectively, but are no protection against feelings of guilt or regret.
In the emotion-charged world of deprivation and crime, Sue’s glancing ironies are probably the safest response. Certainly against the attack led by Tommy’s mother. Anne (given explosive life by Claire-Louise Cordwell, ever watchful and rebarbative) and her son are societal nightmares, wheedling, insulting, filled-to-the-brim with insults in a self-destructive armoury of vitriol.
In an assured debut Chris Thompson, ten years a social worker, balances sympathy and criticism of his characters – under pressure Marcus shows signs of aggressive defence that could lead towards the far more developed versions the Andersons show.
There are moments of joy between Tommy (Jack McMullen, showing how the criminal hatches from mistreatment) and his mother, making the silent moment of rejection the stronger. And always the action wheels back and forth, coming closer to the event which focuses the drama, while the final contrast of parents calling sons who are, or are not, there is a quietly moving summation of how life treats these people.
Tommy Anderson: Jack McMullen.
Anne Anderson: Claire-Louise Cordwell.
Marcus Reeves: Toby Wharton.
Sue Ruskin: Lisa Palfrey.
Karin Francis: Elaine Claxton.
Simon Gale/Lou Martel: Oliver Jackson.
Alex Sutherland: Chinna Wodu.
Director: Robert Hastie.
Designer: James Perkins.
Lighting: Gary Bowman.
Sound: Emma Laxton.
Fight director: Philip d’Orléans.
Assistant director: Hannah Jones.
Associate designer: Sophia Simensky.
Assistant lighting: Jack Weir.