OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND
by David Pinner.
Finborough Theatre above Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 24 January 2011.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk (reductions on full-priced tickets booked online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 January.
First staging for mid-seventies play shows sound and fury signifying state of the nation.
“Safe as houses,” remarks someone in David Pinner’s play. Which takes on an ironic turn in a performance delayed because a building down the road’s just toppled over. A whole lot’s falling down in Pinner’s account of suburban strains in mid-70s England. Written then but never performed, it analyses the same middle-class malaise as early Alan Ayckbourn comedies, but head-on and several gears higher.
Far-from-saintly George Hampton is a perplexed middle-class Englishman, emotionally paralysed, surviving on anger and indignation as economic and family security evaporate.
In a world of semi-detached houses with hear-through walls, home is no longer a castle. But railing against foreigners, helplessly flailing an axe, losing his wife to the lodger and his lover to his son, furious at the self-assured German lodger’s criticisms of the England George loves, yet fears for as it fragments politically, he is witty and heroic, yet, when the comic bile wears thin, small-minded and impotent.
Peter Broome shows both aspects, ranting, ridiculous and played-out, yet also a tall, fiery figure who’s much put upon; scion of a nation at the end of its expectations and painfully aware of its inability to articulate feelings. Around him, Mel Cook’s swift, energetic production creates a comic whirl that leaves room for quieter moments.
Natalie Lesser’s sexually eager neighbour, Antonia, is also emotionally perceptive about George. And, in a finely-judged performance, Charlotte Thornton charts his wife Kay’s emergence from hiding evidence of her own talent as a painter behind the furniture to displaying her work on the walls. And, encouraged by their German lodger, as George stands helplessly by, she confidently leaves England for a profitable new career in America.
Jonathan Christie creates his German through an assuredly suave manner rather than accent – wisely not compounding a number of George’s lines about foreigners which it would be hard to believe a playwright would pen today – while Daniel Fraser as the 18-year old son aptly leaves doubt over the durability of Rob’s commitment to Antonia.
Pinner ends with George shrugging off his misquotation of the Browning poem that provides the play’s title. More compromise, naturally enough.
Kay Hampton: Charlotte Thornton.
Rob Hampton: Daniel Fraser.
Antonia Elkind: Natalie Lesser.
George Hampton: Peter Broome.
Florian Grunewald: Jonathan Christie.
Director: Mel Cook.
Designer: Alison Neighbour.