THE COMPANY MAN
by Torben Betts.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 6 November 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs n2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 October.
Attack-dog aspect is new play’s strongest point.
There’s a pointed irony to the title Torben Betts has given his new play. For William is the man who ran the company. But, as the boss, he was on his own: a company man who’s kept no company. And who has no time for others’ views, or contradictions to his own unassailable enthusiasm for capitalism and the freedoms it’s – well, apparently brought him.
He’s progressively crushed his wife, stifled his daughter – now nursing her incapacitated mother – and driven out his son, Richard. All without thinking he’s ever set a foot wrong. Time moves between present and past, signalled by whether Isla Blair’s Jane is wheelchair-bound, her speech affected by degenerative disease, or mobile.
Betts is a dramatist of two manners. On the fringe it’s full-force tempests of words; for repertory theatres (principally Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph) a more measured style. The Company Man has a fascination as it operates on the edge between these. In story, character and realistic scenes, it’s the polite Torben of A Listening Heaven and other Scarborough scripts. But much of the play’s tone, its abrasive relationships and aspects of its dialogue, suggest wild-man Betts isn’t being kept fully at bay.
Experienced Orange Tree hand Adam Barnard plays it for all its worth, with Bruce Alexander offering a high-power display of energy wasted on hostility, contrasted by the ever-excellent Nicholas Lumley as the mild bystander, the man who really values Jane.
Isla Blair charts the downhill pressures on William’s wife. Though his self-centred behaviour can’t be pinned-down as cause of her disability, the idea of a link is subliminally present: treat people like this and see what you are doing to them. Beatrice Curnow’s patience, before an eventual declaration of independence, is another track of malign influence, as is the rebellion of Jack Sandle’s Richard.
So there’s plenty of energy, even if, finally, there’s a sense the play is covering familiar family territory. It might, perhaps aptly, be a more explosive, less contained version of some of the social dramas from a century or so ago this theatre is so adept at rediscovering and reviving.
Jane: Isla Blair.
William: Bruce Alexander.
James: Nicholas Lumley.
Richard: Jack Sandle.
Cathy: Beatrice Curnow.
Director: Adam Barnard.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: William Reynolds.
Fight director: Philip d’Orleans.
Assistant director: Teinkie van der Sluijs.