THE GRAPES OF WRATH: adapted Frank Galati.
Runs: 2h 30m: one interval: till 8th April.
Performance times: 7.45pm (matinees Thurs 1.30pm and Sats 2.30pm),
Review: Alan Geary: 28th March 2017.
Doesn’t easily adapt to the stage.Along with The Great Gatsby, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath must be on The Great American Novel shortlist of two. But, given its sweep and grandeur, it doesn’t easily adapt to the stage; as this production demonstrates.
In the first half, director Abbey Knight’s interpretation fails utterly to capture the epic quality of the Joad family’s trek to California; originally an overt reference to the biblical Exodus to the Promised Land. It’s all too static. The lyrics might have been intended to suggest a journey but we’ll never know: they get lost in the music.
That said, Matt Regan’s composition, played live, is quite wonderful. It evokes despair and tragic emptiness – the play begins with a violin bow being scraped against a saw. The only low is a jauntily ill-fitting number about the joys of California done partly by performers on stilts.
The set doesn’t help. An otherwise bare stage is a good idea, but the two huge moveable metallic boxes are an irrelevant nuisance. Better to have signified change of location by more use of lighting effects.
The homespun philosophy mostly works, except when it’s allowed to include that shocking cliché “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do”, not once but twice. It’s risible.
Proceedings are at their best after the interval, with the hopelessness of the California shanty towns, and the struggle between itinerant workers and landowners backed by corrupt cops. The play is boldly one-sided and didactic.
Some of the acting is a bit basic, but the over-arching character, Ma Joad, the matriarch, is beautifully played by Julia Swift. Through her it’s made clear that women are the resilient, unconquerable half of humanity.
André Squire also convinces as the rebellious, quick to anger Tom Joad; and so does Molly Logan as the bedraggled and pathetic Rose of Sharon. In the closing scene, a powerful piece of theatre, Rose of Sharon uses the breast milk intended for her stillborn baby to give succour to a man dying of starvation.
But some novels are, on balance, ill-suited to stage (not necessarily film) adaptation. This particular Steinbeck would appear to be one of them.
Connie: Ben Bland.
Noah: Daniel Booroff.
Casey: Brendan Charleson.
Pa: Charlie Folorunsho.
Al: Shiv Jalota.
Uncle John: Jim Kitson.
Rose of Sharon: Molly Logan.
Grandma/Elizabeth Sandry: Pamela Merrick.
Band/Car Salesman/Proprietor/Deputy/Book Keeper: Harry Napier.
Muley/Ma Going Back/Narrator/Vocalist: Alexander Newland.
Grampa: Heronimo Sehmi.
Tom Joad: André Squire.
Ma: Julia Swift.
Winfield: Christopher-James Molife/Sam Meakin/Gianluca Gauci.
Ruthie: Grace Puntha/Hanna Fletcher/Lily-Mae Evans.
Boy: Felix Findley/Elliot Humphreys/Gus Davies.
Director: Abby Wright.
Designer: Laura Hopkins.
Lighting Designer: Nigel Edwards.
Composer/Musical Director: Matt Regan.
Fight Director: Philip D’Orléans