OLEANNA: David Mamet.
Lakeside Arts Centre: Tkts 0115 846 7777 www.lakesidearts.org.uk
Runs: 1h 25m: no interval till 23rd April.
Performance Times: 8pm (matinees 2pm 16th and 20th).
Post-Show Discussion: 19th, Signed Performance: 14th, Audio Described performance: 21st.
Review: Alan Geary: 12th April 2011.
When Alistair McGowan (John) says, “I have an interest in the status quo”, he indicates the audience and adds “Everyone does”. It’s a good idea. But as a device for ensuring our concentration it’s superfluous: we’re already heavily involved in proceedings. The uninterrupted hour and twenty-five minutes of this Oleanna is entirely compelling.
It’s not simply the stunning performances from McGowan and Clare Foster (Carol). In the context of a play of thematic and textual complexity the audience is treated to a deadly power struggle between two realistic and believable characters. You might find yourself taking sides but there’s no real need to do so.
At a US college – all the way down to a dusty spider plant it’s a brilliantly observed early nineties academic office set – a foundering student has come to her professor for help. But by near the end, when there is or is not a twist in the tail, the power relationship has been turned on its head; on the strength of her allegations he’s about to be out of a job.
McGowan makes his man a professional carer and sharer; but he’s also a pompous hypocrite, pretending to be student-centred but actually self-centred. Carol is inadequate and vulnerable but wily and ruthless as well. These are performances of depth which make you care about the characters – the play’s not simply a polemic.
Along the way though there’s an examination of political correctness, feminism, the assumptions surrounding higher education; and the issue of self-image, indeed the whole concept of Self.
Dialogue is realistic. It’s jagged and chopped up. A snatch of speech overlaps with another; the characters don’t connect or properly engage. She’s struggling to articulate or to understand words which to him are basic; he’s using speech to confuse, impress and intimidate rather than inform.
Concurrently, John is unwillingly on the phone with his wife over a problematic house purchase – real estate transactions seem to be a preoccupation with writer David Mamet, hence the otherwise obscure title Oleanna.
This is directed by Matt Aston for his new company, Engine House, in association with the Lakeside Arts Centre.
Carol: Clare Foster.
John: Alistair McGowan.
Director: Matt Aston.
Designer: Laura McEwan.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Fight Director: Paul Benzing.