SAINT’S DAY by John Whiting
The Orange Tree Theatre: Richmond
October 16th – November 23rd 2002
Monday – Saturday: 7:45 pm: Saturday matinees: 4 pm Thursday matinees: (and free post-show discussion) 2:30 pm, October 17th, 24th and 31st.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (2 intervals)
Box office: 020 8940 3633
Review: Emma Dunford
Touching in its pitiful humour and the display of each character is uniquely remarkable – a first class depressing evening!
‘From darkness to darkness to darkness’, is a line exclaimed in Act III of John Whiting’s poignant tragedy Saint’s Day, neatly summing up the ambience it conceives. For Act I is dark, Act II is darker, and Act III delves to a level of bleakness that is both shocking and altogether wretched. That is not to say, however, that the play itself disappoints. On the contrary, the play is touching in its pitiful humour and the display of each character is uniquely remarkable. It is altogether a first class depressing evening!
Saint’s Day is a play about suffering and revenge – conceptually atheist and frank in its pursual of matching violence with violence, the Christian lessons ‘love your neighbour’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ are vehemently disclaimed.
Leonard Fenton (most famous for his role of Dr Legg in Eastenders) plays Paul Southman superbly, an exiled pamphleteer, whose criticisms of society are emulated subtly in the play’s development. The troubles he challenges – often very amusingly – at the centre of his social dynamic hit home when the feeble and stammering Reverend of the village hypocritically asks for his help. This said Reverend, whose ‘humility is bordering on civility’, is the very essence of what is wrong with the world, and the tragic deaths at the end of the play are an apt finale for what Paul considers to be the only rose ever to be discovered in life.
All the cast are wonderful and play out their woes and afflictions in a manner that seems distressingly real. Stella Heberden, with her insipid and unrelenting drone, has the drear articulation needed for the lost and weary, middle-aged woman she is playing. In contrast her husband, Charles, is as articulate as he is hypocritical (yet in denial), an artist hiding his talents for fear of rejection from social and critical brutality. John Winter, the servant, claimed the most of my pity, as his performance is heartfelt and, in the true sense of the word, pathetic. And the acclaimed critic and poet Procrathren is great in his role as the abased honourable gentleman.
Every character has a side to sympathise with and a side to despise, and every act goes in a different direction to what is expected. The third act is not quite as absorbing as the first two, but perhaps this is just because it is so unequivocally dark.
As usual Sam Walters’s excellent direction has done wonders in achieving vibrancy and colour in what, in lesser hands, could be a doleful and colourless play.
Paul Southman: Leonard Fenton
Stella Heberden: Celia Nelson
Charles Heberden: Ed Stoppard
John Winter: David Gooderson
Robert Procrathren: Ben Warwick
The Rev Giles Aldus: Robert Benfield
Christian Melrose: John Paul Connolly
Walter Killeen: Chris Porter
Henry Chater: James Lloyd Pegg
Thomas Cowper: Robert Benfield
The young woman: Sam Dowson
The child: Alicia Davies, Madeleine Mathias and Elisa Spanu
Women of the village: Francis Billington, Jean Braithwaite, Mary Davies, Samantha Hartley, Deborah Kuun, Joanna Medd and Mandy Wright
Directed by: Sam Walters
Designed by: Tim Meacock
Lighting by: John Harris
Assistant to the director: David Roderick
Stage Manager: Jim Mansel