by Paul Zindel

Jack Studio Theatre 410 Brockley Road SE4 2DH To 19 October 2013.
Tue–Sat 7.45pm.
Runs 1hr30min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 870 0887.
Review: William Russell 17 October.

Performances and staging of this 1971 Pulitzer Prize winning play are immaculate: fringe theatre at its very best.
Set in the clapboard home of Beatrice, a poor trash, single parent, who drinks, ill treats her children, and to make ends meet has a geriatric lodger, Paul Zindel’s play tells what happens when her eldest daughter Tillie enters the school science prize.

She has been experimenting with the effects of radiation on some marigolds, helped by her science teacher, whom we never meet; Tilly finds in science an escape from the horrors of her environment. Her mother continually puts her down, while her younger sister Ruth, an epileptic hysteric, another Beatrice in the making.

Today, when genetically modified crops are regarded by many with loathing perhaps Zindel’s use of radiation as a metaphor for hope, as a means of escape to a better world, is questionable – he was a science teacher – but such is the power of the writing it still works.

This is one of those near-perfect evenings in the theatre, directed with the surest of hands by Amy Gunn. The set by Gina Rose Lee conjures up the squalor of Beatrice’s home with its boarded up windows keeping real life at bay beautifully, and the playing by the entire cast is extremely good.

As Beatrice I doubt if Sophie Doherty could be bettered. She captures the woman’s panic, her fear of what lies ahead, her ruthlessness, the way she tramples on and tries to destroy her daughters’ dreams. It is a tour de force, except she is not grandstanding, which is usually what the words mean, but giving a performance of both power and subtlety.

Beatrice is vicious, cruel and stupid, but she is also pitiable and Doherty makes one feel sorry for the woman in spite of everything she does, most of her actions being unforgiveable and cruel.

As Tillie, the plain, clever, downtrodden elder daughter Evelyn Campbell is very touching and by the end it is clear she at least will escape the environment in which these children are trapped. Katherine Rodden matches her as Ruth, selfish, boy-mad and with the tongue of a viper like her mother.

Tillie: Evelyn Campbell.
Beatrice: Sophie Doherty.
Ruth: Katherine Rodden.
Nanny: Clare Almond.
Janice Vickery: Grace Lyons Hudson.

Director: Amy Gunn.
Designer: Gina Rose Lee.
Lighting: William Ingham.
Sound: Mark Webster.

2013-10-21 12:20:45

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