by Florian Zeller translated by Christopher Hampton.
Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET To 20 June 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 June.
Keeping it in the family: triumphs with trauma.
As with The Father, Florian Zeller’s play at the Ustinov last autumn, (and playing on Bath Theatre Royal’s main-stage 22-27 June this year), this play makes the dramatic earth shake before our eyes.
The Father brilliantly sucked audiences into a bourgeois Frenchman’s experience of mental instability till neither he nor we understood where we stood. In this play, from two years earlier (2010), the world collapses for forty-something Anna, her husband busily off to yet another business seminar – or, she believes, tryst with his lover.
She dotes on grown-up son Nicholas, who won’t answer her calls. When she claims he’s come home and is sleeping, we no more believe her than does her husband Peter. But life, in Zeller, isn’t that simple.
Peter is hiding something shared with the others. Usually, though, people speak frankly. When her son’s girlfriend Élodie arrives, luscious and smiling, she stands for all rival women, including Peter’s lover and Anne’s unfavoured daughter – all the women Anne feels threaten her.
By the later stages it’s impossible to distinguish whether the words spoken are those Élodie and Nicholas, particularly, ‘would’ (they are, after all, fictional characters) have spoken, or the words and tone they want to imply, or, indeed, what Anne would have imagined.
As in the later play, the world dissolves visually – familiar objects are removed, being replaced here by a hospital bed.
The fragmentary, ambiguous dialogue carefully keeps possibilities open. Laurence Boswell’s finely-judged production draws audiences in by an overwhelming quietness, amid which any loud frustration or irony bursts like a shell.
Cara Horgan’s keen, or gloating, display of smiling lipstick, William Postlethwaite’s semi-detached casualness and Richard Clothier’s interweaving of tolerance, patient consideration and occasionally emerging anger surround Gina McKee’s superb central performance.
Like a violin creating nuanced pianissimo tones, under white light that seems to shade with her mood, the character aurally fades away; angst sets-in her face as the complexion apparently pales, movements stiffen and, at one point, she’s drawn into literal sidestepping.
Her Anne is magnificently acted, with focus and concentration. Anne is, coincidentally or not, the name ofThe Father‘s daughter.
Anne: Gina McKee.
Peter: Richard Clothier.
Nicholas: William Postlethwaite.
Élodie: Cara Horgan.
Director: Laurence Boswell.
Designer: Mark Bailey.
Lighting: Colin Grenfell.
Sound/Composer: Jon Nicholls.
Movement: Lucy Cullingford.
Fight director: Terry King.