THE POTTING SHED
by Graham Greene.
Finborough Theatre above Finborough Wine Cafe 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 29 January 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk (reductions on full-priced tickets booked online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 January.
A matter of life and death up for discussion.
Along with the arts/science debate provoked by C P Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ the late fifties also experienced the religion v science tussle in Graham Greene’s 1957 play. Like leading poet T S Eliot, leading novelist Greene had limited success with his five (and a bit) plays. Both explored matters of religious belief under a veneer of drawing-room drama (or altar-front in the case of Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral).
Greene, a Roman Catholic convert from his days as a young man wooing a Catholic, remained within the church life-long, worrying away at faith without abandoning it. Certainly, he had none of the certainty of old-man Callifer, unseen in this play but on the point of death as it opens.
Callifer has been an assured atheist, and the family’s refusal to invite two members to see him one last time points to the mystery of what happened to challenge secular serenity years ago in the titular chamber.
Once that’s revealed, there’d be room for a right family ding-dong about faith in Faithlessness and troubled belief. But Greene faffs around so much with uninvited James’ attempts to recollect what it was that keeps him from visiting the shed upon his return, that the real meat remains uncooked.
It’s a sign perhaps how much faster and detailed drama’s become over the last half-century, and it’s not helped in Svetlana Dimcovic’s production that the revelation comes as culmination to a long discussion between James and also-uninvited clergyman/relative William, which grasps attention at its moment of revelation only after a long, hesitant journey there.
Paul Cawley gives James an understandable edge of nervousness, while Eileen Battye is an anxious anchor in the world of secular assumptions. And there’s a fine adult-as-child performance from Zoe Thorne as Anne, too young to understand family tensions or know about their history. Her private invite brings James home, while her final appearance suggests a measure of hope.
In style and subject, The Potting Shed is deeply old-fashioned and unfashionable. But, beneath the surface its author is examining matters of concern to him; there’s live material within the burnt-out case.
Dr Frederick Baston: Charlie Roe.
Anne Callifer: Zoe Thorne.
Sara: Cate Debenham-Taylor.
Mrs Callifer: Eileen Battye.
John Callifer: Malcolm James.
James Callifer: Paul Cawley.
Dr Kreuzer: David Gooderson.
Corner: Carl Ferguson.
Mrs Potter: Janet Hargreaves.
Miss Connolly: Lorna Jones.
Father William Callifer: Martin Wimbush.
Director: Svetlana Dimcovic.
Designer: Kate Guinness.
Lighting: Jessica Glaisher.
Sound: Simon Perkin.