by Deborah Bruce.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Road Richmond TW9 2SA To8 November 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 21 Oct, 25 Oct 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion: 23 Oct 2.30pm, 28 Oct.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 October.
Fine and fluid production of increasingly involving drama.
There’s a scene in one of Charlie Chaplin’s films (The Gold Rush?) where Charlie’s character looks swooningly at the heroine in a romantic moment rudely interrupted by a flash-forward vision of the pair handling a truculent, and clearly loud (be thankful for silent cinema), baby.
The gap between loving and parenting is one of the distances measured in Deborah Bruce’s cleverly-crafted play, which takes a fresh look at several aspects of relationships. It’s geographical reach is wide, framed by scenes of a spontaneous, if hardly impulsive, liaison between Bea and Simon, both reaching into middle-age, in an airport hotel at Kuala Lumpur. It results in Bea settling in the antipodes – or not settling, as she’s next seen having flown to her old female friends near London. They’re a surrogate family whose collective bosom is not just welcoming but stifling.
Their welcome reveals another distance as they assume Bea wants custody of her two young children. They have a lawyer lined-up. But, no – it’s the kids Bea’s left behind, perfectly happy Simon will be an ideal single parent. And the distance between the friends’ help and their own lives emerges in Kate. Her control-freakery won’t allow Bea a say in her own life, while she punishes her long-suffering husband Dewi for hinted-at errors (Clare Lawrence-Moody conveys a lot in a brief hardening of expression and sarcastic tone).
Throughout, too, Emma’s anxiety for her 15-year old son Liam grows as he’s wandering London during the 2011 riots, before arriving, horrified at Bea’s rejection of her children but rejecting his own mother’s concern for him.
Only the loosely-attached Vinnie (Oliver Ryan giving bite to a potentially flaky character), with no commitment, is relaxed in relating to others, including Bea’s children half-a-world away (Bruce might be the first playwright to give skype a significant role in a realistic drama).
It’s some way into The Distance before Bruce shows more than obvious surface aspects of character, but the temperature rises satisfactorily in Charlotte Gwinner’s beautifully-cast production, where Helen Baxendale’s Bea seems more removed from her friends as matters proceed and her world seems ever-more unsteady.
Bea: Helen Baxendale.
Simon: Timothy Knightley.
Kate: Clare Lawrence-Moody.
Alex: Emma Beattie.
Dewi: Daniel Hawksford.
Vinnie: Oliver Ryan.
Liam: Bill Milner.
Director: Charlotte Gwinner.
Designer: Signe Beckmann.
Lighting: Stuart Burgess.
Sound: Max Pappenheim.
Assistant designer: Katy Mills.