WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE MY MOTHER?
by Christopher Hampton.
Trafalgar Studios (Studio 2) 14 Whitehall SW1A 2DY To 8 October 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7632.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 September.
Youthful baby-boomers in a lost age.
Long before its recent crop of teen-dramatists, back in the mid-sixties the Royal Court Theatre gave the professional premiere of Oxford student Christopher Hampton’s first play. Hampton’s writing soon acquired greater range, though the flexibility of writing and character is already here.
Blanche McIntyre’s vivid, beautifully acted revival gives a rare chance to see how society has changed since those days. It’s not so much the shabby, untidy room shared by two young men in their late teens that catches the period. So does the sexual uncertainty, in which their stated physical relationship, contrived despite separated single beds, set at ninety-degree angles, seems less about choice than indecision.
For Jimmy soon attaches himself to young Linda. More pointedly, Ian, from less wealthy origins, falls for Jimmy’s mother. There’s minimal sex on display, and the different mores are exemplified in the quaint way Ian, and the audience, only ever know Abigail Cruttenden’s character as ‘Mrs Evans’.
The two scenes which develop this relationship, the play’s heart, are an emotional voyage of discovery, after a first half of nervous and defensive humour or conflict, and before the tragic event the cross-generation relationship may have caused.
Mrs Evans, who came of age in the 1940s, is older but her experience is more limited. Taken in by Ian’s manipulative ways, she’s the naive one, even as she sees directness in him. It’s a precise performance, an elegant, poised woman unable to see how the ground she thinks she’s treading steadily is shifting beneath her. Every detail of sympathy, consideration, generosity – and caution veering towards helpless alarm – are caught.
But the play’s centre is Ian, who soon emerges victor in his arguments with the initially more dominant-seeming Jimmy. Harry Melling is a writhing amalgam of indeterminacy and deception. Apparent confession leads to further manipulation as he somehow seems to sit and crouch simultaneously, arms and body folding or extending as physical underlining to his hunger for contact with someone and for emotional stability. Until reality forces both young men beyond their temporary bedsit-youth, in this classy reminder of a very individual playwright’s first work.
Ian: Harry Melling.
Jimmy: Sam Swamsbury.
Mrs Evans: Abigail Cruttenden.
Dennis: Laurence Dobiesz.
Linda: Antonia Kinlay.
Director: Blanche McIntyre.
Designer: Nicky Bunch.
Lighting: Greg Gould.
Sound: George Dennis.
Fight director: Stevie Raine.