by Mike Leigh.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 9 April 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed 2.30pm & Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 2 April 3pm.
Captioned/Post-show Discussion with speech-to-text transcription 5 April.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
www.hampsteadtheatre.com Hampstead performances sold out.
Transfers to Duchess Theatre Catherine Street WC2B 5LA 12 April-28 May 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 0844 412 4659.
or via Hampsterad Theatre by ‘phone and online.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 March.
Uproarious night in a life of quiet despair is well worth reviving.
Originally devised with the cast, Mike Leigh’s play is redirected by its creator with actors, some not born at the 1979 premiere. Still, it’s not the first time Leigh has worked with an actor who didn’t devise their role – there had been a cast change during the run of Abigail’s Party.
Ecstasy is about as ecstatic as Abigail’s Party is about – well, Abigail’s party. Life is bleak for young Jean, getting-by on lonely gin-and-tonics in a shabby bedsit, with coin-operated electricity meter and Baby Belling, automated fuel-pumps having taken even the crumbs of enjoyment from work on the forecourt.
Rather than a two-act play, Ecstasy is a single long act with a prologue giving glimpses of Jean’s life before a Friday night with old friends. First seen lying on a post-coital bed, face and body inert, Jean gradually comes to life, though her friend Dawn, whose words surge without consideration or consistency, violent Roy, after one thing and neither asking nor waiting for it, plus his vengeful wife treat the cramped room freely, as Jean’s sidelined in her own home, drinking. And smoking.
Persistent cigarettes are one sign of the era; others are men’s behaviour towards women and, particularly, the casual racism. Jean’s quiet rebuff to the gentle builder Len’s unthinking attitude is a surprising moment of authority between her tentative moves to establish a relationship with him.
At times it can seem Leigh is making easy humour from his characters, but the opposite is the case; it’s the lack of the judgmental, the presentation of truth, sometimes in a comic whirl, at others with painful detail, which makes the seemingly insignificant action resonate.
And the richness of the playing, including Craig Parkinson, whose Len will never commit himself emotionally, Allen Leech, whose happy-go-lucky Mick downs alcohol and makes jokes between asthma attacks, and Sinéad Matthews, her voice threatening to disappear into half-articulated scratches, echoing Dawn’s unreflective mind.
And, centrally, Siân Brooke’s finely-detailed Jean, reacting passively, only coming to full emotional life as she sings and in her final, foetal despair – one of modern drama’s most deeply moving conclusions.
Jean: Siân Brooke.
Roy: Daniel Coonan.
Val: Claire-Louise Cordwell.
Mick: Allen Leech.
Dawn: Sinéad Matthews.
Len: Craig Parkinson.
Director: Mike Leigh.
Designer: Alison Chitty.
Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound: John Leonard.