WAITING FOR LEFTY
by Clifford Odets.
White Bear Theatre 138 Kennington Park Road SE11 4DJ To 2 March 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 6pm.
Runs 50min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7793 9193.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 February.
Energetic, striking revival.
Seeing this straight after Anders Lustgarten’s new Royal Court play was startling. Lustgarten, writing about Britain today, and Clifford Odets, whose short play took 1935 New York audiences by surprise, attack a callous capitalism shared by post-Depression America and Austerity Britain. In one, a former nurse is refused treatment because she doesn’t met the privatised health service’s criteria; Odets has a ‘charity’ patient die from an operation by a bungling surgeon while a skilled one is at hand.
Both are angry, Odets channelling the anger within the play’s form as a meeting of taxi-drivers deciding whether to strike. The previous year’s New York taxi-drivers’ strike gave Odets the idea but not the content. His first produced play, it already shows an emotional style, hand on heart, or beating breast, in language and situation.
But it’s clear and direct; Florence may wish to elope with her lover despite poverty, but we’ve seen where that ends with driver’s wife Edna, their furniture repossessed, returning to an affluent ex-lover. Money destroys lives as well as love – a doctor sacked on racist grounds (another Lustgarten link); an industrial scientist’s joy at promotion souring on learning about the secret project involved.
Throughout, drivers quarrel with union official Harry Fatt’s attempts to quell the strike calls. A boss’s spy is outed, and from the audience come planted heckles and disruption. Christopher Emms’ production makes a few minor adjustments but sets the play’s fire flaming. Calls for Lefty Costello to speak end when it’s learned what’s happened to him; clearly he’d got too dangerous for the bosses. All who do appear are played with energy and close-up conviction; men driven to the desperate edge of poverty – who takes taxis in a Depression? – and owners’ rapacity.
There’s no doubt which way the final strike vote will go. But reality cast an ironic shadow. The Group Theatre, who premiered Lefty, attempted to create an ensemble within a capitalist theatre structure. It foundered as its major talents were lured to Broadway or Hollywood. As was Odets. But Lefty’s vehemence and analytical force, powerfully expressed here, remain true to themselves.
Harry Fatt: Jordan Lee.
Sid: Paul Harnett.
Fayette/Dr Barnes/Union Member: David Blackwell.
Joe: Dominic Morgan.
Clayton/Union Member: Felix Trench.
Agate: Sid Phoenix.
Dr Benjamin: Karl Reay.
Edna/Union Member: Holly McLay.
Gunman/Irv: Duke Duffy.
Miller: Leila Sykes.
Florence/Union Member: Kate Wyler.
Director: Christopher Emms.
Designer: Emily Harwood.
Lighting: Joseph Capes.
Sound: Andrew Josephs.
Fight director: Emma Claire Brightlyn.