by Shelagh Stephenson.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue NW3 3EU To 30 October 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm, 13 & 27 Oct 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 October.
Plenty of physical light but too little dramatic illumination.
Where three sisters are gathered together you’re likely to have a fine Shelagh Stephenson play, as in her early, Hampstead-premiered piece The Memory of Water and A Northern Odyssey, her moving drama at Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s Live Theatre earlier this year.
Unlike those plays, rooted in character, her new one Enlightenment is based upon an idea, and is far weaker, the characters are thinly-conceived and the events rarely credible.
Lia and Nick (apparently some sort of teacher – marking keeps being mentioned but never seems very urgent) live in a large, airy house, its white circular room topped by a slightly-tilted white roof giving a subliminal sense of an astrolabe. There’s no softness, colour or comfort to this bright, exposed environment.
Its exposure’s highlighted by the large glassless window through which a young intruder enters when he wishes. Another wall has a translucent screen window on which vague projections express the pair’s hopes to see their grown-up son, possibly killed in a terrorist attack across the world.
Anyone would find life tough, experiencing such intense hope and anxiety. The tensions, the tendencies to blame, in which no response is ever the right one, are evident. But no intelligent woman would resort to such a tenth-rate non-psychic as Joyce, a drab and undeveloped character, who keeps being brought back for no more apparent reason than that, having been created for the opening scene, she might as well be reintroduced, however pointlessly, later on.
Nor, despite the strong, focused Paul Freeman, does the MP father figure contribute anything much; his status is mentioned but hardly carries dramatic weight. Daisy Beaumont makes a fair show of media-presenter Joanna, but the character is hand-me-down stock. Showing up such a bright, brittle and unscrupulous type is hardly new ground.
Nor is the young man, so convincing-looking, who comes in place of the son. Tom Weston-Jones is entirely adequate, but Adam’s complexities and lurch towards violence seem second-hand characterisation. The evening’s most touching moment is the final end of hope, expressed as a vanishing shadow on the screen. By which time, all hope and interest have long vanished too.
Lia: Julie Graham.
Nick: Richard Clothier.
Joyce: Polly Kemp.
Gordon: Paul Freeman.
Joanna: Daisy Beaumont.
Adam: Tom Weston-Jones.
Director: Edward Hall.
Designer: Francis O’Connor.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: Matt McKenzie.
Composer: Simon Slater.
Projection: Andrzej Goulding.
Fight director: Terry King.