by Polly Stenham.
Crucible Studio To 24 July 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm except 24 July 7pm Mat Sat & 14 July 2pm
BSL Signed 14 July 7.45pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0114 429 6000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 July.
Emotional vandalism goes bourgeois.
Polly Stenham’s 2007 debut is probably the first play to begin dating through a message from the Speaking Clock. Startling when it appeared at London’s Royal Court Theatre Upstairs as an early manifestation of the shift announced by the new Artistic Director from working- to middle-class settings, the play’s characters – all private schools and jetting home at a moment’s notice from Hong Kong – show the higher-classes can produce behaviour as low as any.
Dispatched home for her part in injuring a younger girl at boarding-school, Mia finds her artistic school-dropout brother Henry in an emotional tangle of support and dependency with their fecklessly alcoholic mother. Father, hated by Henry, disappoints Mia too with his investment-banker formality.
Mia struggles to live through all this, as Leila Mimmack tactfully shows, down to a final dry-voiced expression of hope, in a role that becomes less prominent as the play proceeds (suitably, she’s sitting on the sidelines in later scenes). The chief school perpetrator, Izzy, a picture of arrogant self-centredness from Amy Dawson, is the potential successor to the play’s increasingly dominant Martha – a monstrous mum sharing her name with Edward Albee’s ferociously non-maternal character in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Frances Barber’s raddled Martha alternates patches of high-energy force and wit with collapses revealing the aging, weary core of her lost life. Sitting on the bed, a few home-truths delivered from someone in the family, Martha looks blank-eyed into the despairing hollow of wasted years past, or horrifically tedious ones still to come.
There’ll clearly be no sympathy from Alistair Petrie’s emotionally buttoned-up Hugh, intent on dispatching her into a Home before returning to his new life, while her lover’s-quarrel tactic of cutting-up her son’s clothes leaves James Norton’s Henry, already emotionally frustrated between care and anger, visually distorted in her clothes and lipstick.
Richard Wilson’s direction makes every moment tell within the action’s seamless continuum. Only James Cotterill’s slightly fussy revolve setting slows things at times, though it allows a pointed contrast between the world elsewhere and the near-hermetic room dominated by a double-bed and Henry’s sometimes vandalised portraits of his mother.
Martha: Frances Barber.
Izzy: Amy Dawson.
Mia: Leila Mimmack.
Henry: James Norton.
Hugh: Alistair Petrie.
Alice: Gemma Lise Thornton.
Director: Richard Wilson.
Designer: James Cotterill.
Lighting: Johanna Town..
Composer: Olly Fox.
Assistant director: Gabrielle Jourdan.