THE DECEMBER MAN/L’HOMME DE DÉCEMBRE
by Colleen Murphy.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 21 March 2011.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 March.
First of three plays by unknown-in-UK Canadian playwright suggests another valuable discovery at the Finborough.
Michael Moore ends Bowling for Columbine, his documentary about two students running amok shooting people at Columbine High School, Colorado in 1999, with a comparison between the high murder-rate in the gun-loving USA and the far lower rate in Canada.
He doesn’t mention what had happened in Montréal’s École Polytechnique a decade earlier, when one gunman attacked over two dozen people, mostly women, killing the majority. Quebec-born playwright Colleen Murphy looks at the aftermath of this on one bystander, architecture student Jean Fournier.
Murphy tells her tale backwards, beginning with a scene that calmly shows people unable to go on living. As time unfolds retrospectively over two and a quarter years, explanations unfold for the tensions evident within Jean’s family, while events reach back to the relief Benoît and Kate Fournier feel at learning their son has survived the shootings. It offers a piercing irony in the light of what we know will come their way.
For all the difficulties of staging the play on an intransigent space set-up for a different show, Lavinia Hollands’ production, while it still had scope for relationships to gain a sense of depth at its preview performance, evidently has the piece’s measure.
Murphy writes believable family relationships – the dominant wife, easygoing husband and the son for whom they have ambitions beyond their own life as domestic cleaner and manual worker – and structures her backwards-story skilfully, placing jigsaw pieces of information throughout till the picture of the shooting and its impact on young Jean becomes complete.
Linda Broughton’s fussily protective mother is both overbearing and vulnerable in her love and ambition for her son, while Matthew Hendrickson’s Benoît expands from the soft resignation of his first, ‘final’ scene to show the worried yet peacemaking compromiser.
Between them they have created a son to whom neither can relate intimately, who focuses his bottled-up anxieties on a student design project that’s clearly going nowhere, as frozen in time as he is by the traumatic events. It’s an emotional fate aptly expressed by Michael Benz as a fair-haired, mild-eyed young man withdrawing defensively into his own emotional winter.
Benoît Fournier: Matthew Hendrickson.
Kate Fournier: Linda Broughton.
Jean Fournier: Michael Benz.
Director: Lavinia Hollands.
Designer: Olivia Altaras.
Lighting: Chris Withers.
Sound: Edward Lewis.
Costume: Geri Spencer.
Assistant designer: Beata Csikmak.