THE LAST PILGRIM
by Roy Smiles.
White Bear Theatre 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 23 October 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm except 23 Oct 6.30pm Sun 6pm.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7793 9193.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 October.
More political idealism south of the river.
First Battersea, now Kennington. South London pub theatres have been doing a fine job probing ‘60s US civil rights heroes’ beliefs and weaknesses, through their final hours in a hotel room before being assassinated. Last year at Theatre 503 it was Martin Luther King, in Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop. Now, at the White Bear, Roy Smiles’ The Last Pilgrim does the same for Robert Kennedy.
Hall employed a supernatural woman from room-service; Smiles uses three journalists. Campaigning for the presidential nomination, Bobby hopes to persuade three disenchanted scribblers back to his cause. The woman and the Black hack might be persuaded. The third, an Ivy league friend of Jack Kennedy, is bilious, claiming to have seen through the Kennedy myth, but having too a more direct motive, later revealed.
Smiles holds interest in what’s essentially a long argument through a carefully-structured dynamic of argument and personal tensions. Kennedy shifts between Great White Hope and someone evading commitment by an anthology of quotes, slipping smoothly between conversation to speech-making. He never appears more glib than when he’s just won his point.
It’s fascinating to see the ‘60s, days of change, through the parental generation; people who remember the war and the fifties, and who have seen their lives fall apart. Who, in their grey suits and subdued dress colours see the 1960s as “a daze of change”.
Tim Stark’s production provides variety without becoming fussy or over-busy. It’s terrifically acted, Sean Patterson encapsulating both hope and complacency in his smiling features, and a politician’s blandishments in his ‘I feel your pain’ expressions of guilt. Gabriella Santinelli’s Nancy brings a touch of restraint, while Nyasha Hatendi’s Gordon has the excitement of someone who finds a new dignity possible in the civil rights age, and relies on Bobby to protect it.
Brendan Hughes shows volcanic resentment, first stirring then bubbling in cutting wit, before erupting into drunken rage. As he grabs Kennedy’s lapels, his face going through a sequence of intense emotional switches, he represents the way Smiles and Stark develop a precisely delineated and forceful picture of the complexities of political leadership.
Robert Kennedy: Sean Patterson.
Tom Quinn: Brendan Hughes.
James Gordon: Nyasha Hatendi.
Nancy Buckman: Gabriella Santinelli.
Director: Tim Stark.
Designer: Alex Breeden.
Lighting: Geraint Pughe.
Sound: Mark Dunne.