THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS
by William Inge.
Belgrade Theatre (B2) Belgrade Square CV1 1GS To 10 November 2012.
Tue-Sat 8pm Mat Sat & 7 Nov 2.45pm.
Post-show Discussion 1 Nov.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 024 7655 3055.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 October.
Revival of playwright once ranked with Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams is something that goes bumpily through the night.
They may have sung about the farmer and the cowboy being friends in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, but in the bootleg twenties when William Inge’s 1957 play is set in the state, cowboys belonged to a romantic past – Reuben, the often-absent father of the Flood family, whose home is the play’s setting, likes the open life, but his last link with it disappears when he loses his job as a harness salesman in an age that’s seeing the automobile taking over.
Along with oil, as the widening perspective behind Ruari Murchison’s set shows, its terrain speckled with nodding-donkey oil-wells. Some swank their new-found, oil-based wealth, while others struggle in poverty; something that might have prompted the play’s revival in modern Britain.
But the dark at the top of Inge’s staircase – and a very evident one it is running across the Belgrade’s B2 stage – is internal; socially, it comes out in anti-semitism, domestically in the tensions of marriage and anxieties of growing-up, personally in facing fears. And as stairs tend to lead up to bedrooms, anxieties about physical relationships impinge on these.
From nerves about kissing and self-esteem to dried-up marriages, there’s not a happy physical pairing throughout the Floods; the only happy couple are the friends canoodling lustily on the couch fully in sight of the family talking about their own concerns, apparently without noticing teenage behaviour few homes of the time would have allowed.
That’s all too typical of a production which works best when emotions are peaking, often in intense two-headed arguments. This is the playwright’s childhood backyard, and his experience may well have fed into young Sonny (fine work by Philip Labey, though he can’t provide the age difference to separate him as growing boy from an older sister who’s become a young woman) with his tantrums, alternating with dependence on his mother when other boys mock his softness, and sudden hero-worship of the visiting Sammy.
Olivia Vinall stands out, playing the crushing social shyness of that sister, Reenie. Others, including the usually impressive Caroline Faber in the lynchpin role, seem curiously confined, rarely springing into life.
Sammy: Asher Amis.
Flirt: Jenny-May Darcy.
Punky Givens: Benjamin Durber.
Cora Flood: Caroline Faber.
Sonny Flood: Philip Labey.
Lottie Lacey: Jessica Martin.
Morris Lacey: Graham Vanas.
Reenie Flood: Olivia Vinall.
Rubin Flood: Andrew Whipp.
Director: Lisa Forell.
Designer: Ruari Murchison.
Lighting: Tim Lutkin.
Sound: Tom Mills.