PERSONAL ENEMY To 11 July.

London.

PERSONAL ENEMY
by John Osborne and Anthony Creighton.

White Bear Theatre Club 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 11 July 2010.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 July.

Play of its time that stands up as a period piece today.
One of George Devine’s tactics at the Royal Court Theatre was to encourage young writers to see what was on there. So it’s likely, sometime in spring 1956, while his breakthrough play Look Back in Anger was in rehearsal, John Osborne saw the preceding production, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. He might have compared and contrasted his own recent piece, written with Anthony Creighton, on McCarthyite America, the script of which was lost till recently.

So Fallout Theatre can claim David Aula’s production as a World Premiere. And a very fine job they make of it. The setting’s a familiar-enough middle-class family in 1953. Moving from a birthday to the aftermath of a funeral, the action does what so many plays had done – including the English Stage Company’s first production, Angus Wilson’s The Mulberry Bush – stripping-away layer by layer deceits and assumptions on which happy conformity was perched.

What splinters the family isn’t so much Cold War anti-Communism, but homosexuality. It’s their friendship with the bowtie-wearing literary gay Ward Perry that makes the disgusted family reject their both their sons, one fighting in Korea (no wonder, as a degenerate, he’s staying on in the communist state) and Arnie, whose sexuality has been signalled through his delicacy and way with plants.

If it recalls Miller, it’s more the family-split and symbolism of All My Sons. But the co-authors’ voice is clear as the men – whose careers suffer – attempt to discuss matters while the women are viscerally ferocious. Daughter Caryl turns from sweet girl-next-door type to viciously surly in a way explaining American divorce statistics, while Karen Lewis as the boys’ mother, dropped from chairing a local church committee, shows the tragedy of someone knocked against the narrow edges of her small-town assumptions.

This is all-White fifties America, yet Mrs Constant willingly accepts Arnie made a Black woman pregnant if it’s evidence against his homosexuality. The strength of Lewis’s performance lies in creating an understanding about this prejudice. There’s good work generally, and if Steven Clarke goes for sketchy sharpness in his preacher and investigator, he compensates with his dignified outsider Perry.

Mrs Constant: Karen Lewis.
Mr Constant: James Callum.
Caryl Kessler: Joanne King.
Sam Kessler: Mark Oosterveen.
Arnie Constant: Peter Clapp.
Mrs Slifer: Genevieve Allenbury.
Reverend Merrick/Investigator/Ward Perry: Steven Clarke.

Director: David Aula.
Designer: Anna Hourriere.
Lighting: James Baggaley.
Sound: Ed Lewis.
Composer: Luke Rosier.
Video: Charles Arrowsmith.
Animation: Jan Goodman.
Assistant designer: Georgia de Grey.
Costume: Namiko Mitoma.
Accent coach: Lauren Swann.

2010-07-18 13:42:06

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