adapted by Giles Croft from the novel by Melvin Burgess.
Oxfordshire Theatre Company Tour to 9 May 2010.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 March at Leighton Buzzard Theatre.
Worlds apart come together, with silence speaking louder than words.
Giles Croft has formed an ingenious piece from Melvin Burgess’s novel, in which pretentious middle-class Barbara and her privately-schooled son turn up in a small village, living in a cramped cottage (suggested economically by Nettie Scriven’s touring set) and having to get used to such things as cleaning and cooking.
As it’s the 1920s Barbara, whose husband’s abandoned her, has no experience in earning a living. Parading in her bright red dress (covered by a pinafore as she accommodates herself to her new reality), she’s full of fixed-smiles and empty confidence.
Tony blames his mother for his father leaving. Another example of men’s views of women comes with the village lads’ treatment of non-speaking, unhearing local girl April. Unromantic rural society also includes self-righteous local gossip Mrs Riley, while class differences show between Barbara and April’s mother, nervously smiling, fearful for her daughter.
There’s a superficiality to most performances in Karen Simpson’s production which, intended or not, helps make the play’s point. For the one exception is Sarah Thomas-Lane’s April. Often isolated on stage, as she is from the village in life, marked out by different shadings in Hugh Jones’ lighting, April may occupy her own silent world but her impulsive, innocent physical freedom and lively willingness to help the newcomers indicate her happy temperament.
And she’s allied to the swans whose movement her arm-gestures recreate. Daniel Naddafy’s performance deepens as Tony loses his white shirt, collar-and-tie suburban distaste for her, replacing words with the body-language of swans, their arms, like swan-necks, tenderly intertwining.
Barbara tries making April more ladylike, hair combed and beribboned, which the girl enjoys as innocently as she does displaying her legs in unaccustomed stockings. But the idyll’s ultimately destroyed, when events take the newcomers away. Tony re-dons his pretentious school uniform, while the erstwhile joyous April, attacked by a local lad, changes her former expansive physicality for the miserable huddle of a victim.
There are times the dialogue sounds over-expository, and some of the short scenes are sketchily staged. But Simpson’s production takes flight with the physicality of Thomas-Lane’s swan girl and her temporary swain.
April: Sarah Thomas-Lane.
Tony: Daniel Naddafy.
Mrs Piggott: Helen Barford.
Mrs Dean/Mrs Riley: Tracey-Anne Liles.
Mr Riley/David Price/Vicar/Jo/Carrier: Jack Hughes.
Director: Karen Simpson.
Designer: Nettie Scriven.
Lighting: Hugh Jones.
Composer: Matt Cooper.
Movement: Heather Douglas.
Puppetry consultant: Stephen Mottram.
Voice coach: Sally Haugh.