by David Lodge.
Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 4 June 2011.
BSL Signed 2 June.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 01204 520661.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 May.
Once fully underway thoughts spoken aloud acquire interest.
Experienced novelist and creative writing teacher David Lodge is a neophyte dramatist. Adapting his own novel Thinks (having been dissatisfied with a Belgian dramatisation) he’s followed the common advice to new writers to write about what they know. Helpfully, the novel’s set on Lodge’s home turf, an (imaginary) English university.
Amid the sterile buildings in one of which novelist Helen Reed lodges while teaching creative writing, the only interesting structure is the Cognitive Science department, custom built to resemble twin brain hemispheres.
A post-graduate subject, it has lucrative research contracts tumbling in to Ralph Messenger’s lap as he attempts to do for science what Virginia Woolf did in the novel, and create a stream of consciousness (he bets she cheated).
Ralph’s stream flows with sexual memories, to which he seeks to add by striking up an affair with Helen. He starts badly, insensitive to her husband’s sudden death, just as the death from cancer of his main sexual memory comes casually. It’s different when disease seems to threaten his own life.
Studying the brain, and streaming his consciousness, Ralph remains primitively priapic and un-self-aware; his relaxed philanderings contrast his fury at finding cuckold’s horns may be hanging over his own head. Helen, meanwhile, however aware of female motivation on the page and male behaviour in life, cannot stop herself falling for him.
The author’s programme note talks about the use of soliloquies in staging a novel. At first the play looks set to be mainly speeches – though, unlike the ones his note refers to, these don’t explore consciousness, but, disguised as laptop and voice-recorder diaries, mostly retail facts the characters would know, for the audience’s information.
But as the action moves towards the longer, more developed second act the story takes hold. Thanks in part to David Thacker’s unfussy direction and performances by Kate Coogan and Rob Edwards which respectively fill in the character of Helen (less complete as a person than a literary academic) and prevent Ralph falling into the self-indulgence seen where older men attract younger women – a phenomenon predominantly found in works of fiction by older men.
Helen Reed: Kate Coogan.
Ralph Messenger: Rob Edwards.
Director: David Thacker.
Designer/Lighting: Ciaran Bagnall.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Projections: Joe Stathers-Tracey.
Movement: Lesley Hutchison.