NIGHT OF JANUARY 16th
by Ayn Rand.
White Bear Theatre 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 25 February 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 6pm.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7793 9193.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 February.
Court-room drama grips when not trying to get above itself.
She’s hardly regarded as a leading American playwright; nor likely to be so now. But Ayn Rand has other things to be remembered by: novels, philosophy and, through her belief in individualism, influence on American neo-con economics.
She died two years into Ronald Regan’s Presidency but this 1933 courtroom drama inhabits the world of gangsters and The Wall Street Crash – which helps plug it into modern times.
It’s something of an earlier, transatlantic Witness for the Prosecution. But whereas Agatha Christie, plot to the fore, keeps her revelation till the very end, Rand delivers her big shock as a thumping pre-interval curtain-line, then spends a shorter final act re-evaluating the charge against a secretary of murdering her employer and lover.
Unbelievable but temporary credible as most courtroom dramas, the play finally fails when it attempts to tie the plot solution into a wider philosophical view – and implicate the juror-audience in supposed democratic complicity as we deliver a by-then none-too-controversial verdict.
But Jane Moriarty’s skilful revival for Half Door Theatre at the White Bear (its auditorium entrance living up to the visiting company’s name) continually grasps attention for the twist-and-turn did she/didn’t story. Moriarty and a widely skilled cast follow the drama’s variations in emotional temperature, making its characters Hollywood-credible while they’re in front of us.
Among witnesses, Nicholas Delvallé’s security guard has the nervousness of someone unexpectedly in the spotlight, Maggie Robson the earnest honesty of an ordinary person more sure of her moral position than of stating it publicly, while Tom Sletter gives the apparently routine role of court clerk individuality in his varied manner when administering the oath.
Donovan Imber takes over the room as a local gangster in a performance that would be affectionately improbable outside fiction. His arrival’s the last and biggest disruption to court routines that need the interest of dramatic shock to excuse them.
There’s reliable work from prosecution and defence, and members of the rich family important to the back-story, but it’s Francesca Secchi’s dignified-going-on-arrogant accused, sitting straight and silent, then interrupting with urgency, who is the strong centre of this intriguing revival.
Judge Heath: Nigel Harris.
District Attorney Flint: Jonathan Rigby.
Defense Attorney Stevens: David Mildon.
Karen Andre: Francesca Secchi.
Dr Kirkland/Siegurd Junqquist: Michael Blore.
John Hutchins: Nicholas Delvallé.
Homer van Fleet: Ralph Aiken.
Elmer Sweeney/James Chandler: Paul Campion.
Magda Svensen: Maggie Robson.
Nancy Lee Faulkner: Jessica Guise.
John Graham Whitfield: Robin Dunn.
Guts Regan: Donavan Imber.
Clerk: Tom Sletter.
Director: Jane Moriarty.
Designer/Costume: Andy Robinson.
Lighting: Sarah McColgan.
Sound: Jonathan Brain.