by Simon Gray.
Wyndhams Theatre 32 Charing Cross Road WC2H 0DA To 13 April 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.3-0pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5120.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 September.
Passive production that would gain from more drive.
St John Quartermaine doesn’t make terms. He endures them year on year. When not required to be in a classroom of the Cambridge English Language School where he works – at least, is employed – he sits in the staff-room armchair which seems his semi-permanent home. Rowan Atkinson’s sitting there as the curtain falls at the end of act one, and might have stayed throughout the interval of Richard Eyre’s production, being in the same position when it rises for act two.
A colleague makes this point about ‘Sinjun’ after a holiday. He’s become part of the furniture, though less useful. He only keeps a job because employer Eddie Loomis sees the staff as a family in the School which is his life’s love, along with his unseen partner Thomas.
Generally in Simon Gray’s work any hint of success is a hillock followed by a precipice. It might be within a sentence, or delayed by a couple of scenes. With doubled irony, the only consequence avoided here is that of a serious crime.
As he sits tapping a hand idly on chair, limb or thin air, those around him lead quietly desperate lives of failed hopes and relationships. ‘Sinjun’ come in useful when help’s needed but otherwise goes unconsidered.
Creating a character through absence is a skill met perfectly in the play’s 1981 premiere by Edward Fox, suggesting somewhere, disconnected or semi-connected in Quartermaine’s interior was something lost to his present existence. Rowan Atkinson suggests someone who never had purpose or point, around whom people’s lives deconstruct with anger, agony or steady sadness.
Gray’s evasive manner is handled with a strange lack of clarity by Eyre, normally a director to bring subtle intelligence to a play’s inner working. There are hints of this, in Will Keen’s portrayal of an accident-prone newcomer pleading for himself while growing in vehemence as he finds his feet in the school. But the play’s lack of action and fragments of offstage stories has a muted quality here, lacking focus in a central performance that is technically competent and takes the role seriously without animating its evasive character.
St John Quartermaine: Rowan Atkinson.
Anita Manchip: Louise Ford.
Mark Sackling: Matthew Cottle.
Eddie Loomis: Malcolm Sinclair.
Derek Meadle: Will Keen.
Henry Windsape: Conleth Hill.
Melanie Garth: Felicity Montagu.
Director: Richard Eyre.
Designer: Tim Hatley.
Lighting: David Howe.
Sound: John Leonard.