The Southberry Child by Stephen Beresford. the Bridge Theatre, 3 Potter’s Field, London SE1 to 27 August 2022. 4****. William Russell.

Launched at Chichester in June Nicholas Hytner’s production of this interesting, well made play – you don’t get a lot of those these days – has now come to the Bridge. At its centre is a lovely performance from Alex Jennings as David Highland, the rakish vicar in a country town which has moved with the times – once a fishing port with a thriving shipbuilding industry it now gets tourists and has call centres – and the citizens are either descendants of the fishermen or incomers there because of its charm. Highland is seen as something of a character, he drinks, has a driving problem and has been unfaithful to his wife, but he is for all that an old fashioned Anglican out of touch with the times for all that he and his wife as well as a daughter have an adopted one, a coloured girl who is an actress and has returned to take refuge from a career not quite flourishing. The church, aware of his problems, have sent him a young assistant, a gay Scot who has problems of his own. Things come to a head when a little girl’s funeral has to be held and the mother wants it to be a celebration of the child’s life, a party with balloons down the aisle. It is, of course, very much how people feel about death these days what with all those flowers and toys deposited outside places where people, especially children, have died.Things are complicated by the behaviour of the child’s uncle, a troubled youth who is one of the vicar’s problem souls and the attitude of the populace to his refusal to allow balloons. The events allow for a whole series of fascinating encounters as Highland has to face up to the consequences of his beliefs – does he give in and let the people have what they want, which is a farewell party, or what he believes it ought to be?. The populace know what it wants and the reaction is explosive.
Jennings gets good support from Pheobe Nicholls as his tolerant but far from happy wife Mary, Josh Finan as the deeply troubled Lee, and Craig Collier as the gay cleric sent by the Church to eventually take over. Sarah Twomey is heart rending as the child’s mother Tina who is the last to appear. But all the cast deliver pitch perfect performances and Hytner has staged it perfectly although one has to say that the acoustics of the Bridge do take some getting to grips with, although Jennings is not an offender in that respect. He is crystal clear throughout as one would expect. There is a handsome set over which we see the steeple of the church looming and through the windows of which we glimpse the churchyard.
David Highland: Alex Jennings.
Lee Southberry: Josh Finan.
Naomi Highland: Rachel Ofori.
Janet Dean: Hermione Gulliford.
Susannah Highland: jo Herbert.
Mary Highland: Pheobe Nicholls.
Craig Collier: Jack Greenlees.
Joy Sampson: Holly Atkins.
Tina Southberry: Sarah Twomey.
Director:L Nicholas Hytner.
Set Designer: Mark Thompson.
Costume Designer: Yvonne Milnes.
Lighting Designer: Max Narula.
Sound Designer: George Dennis.

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