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Posts Tagged ‘Alice Hamilton’

David Storey’s rarely revived 1989 examination of ageing and family relationships & tensions gets the sort of delicate, sensitive, nuanced production we’re fast getting used to from Alice Hamilton, with as fine an ensemble as you’ll see anywhere. This is a very welcome revival of a work by a playwright we see all too little of.

The Pasmore’s are surprised by their three adult children on their 60th wedding anniversary and taken out to lunch. Tommy Pasmore is a retired miner and his wife a lifelong homemaker. They’ve had to struggle financially and there are current tensions evident. In the (longer) first half it’s mostly pleasantries, welcome reunions, some bickering and more than a touch of nostalgia. When they return from lunch though, there are home truths, skeletons leaving cupboards and the unsaid being said. The parents go to bed upset, so the ‘children’ decide to stay over.

The second half is a lot better than the first, which seemed to me to be overly ponderous, in a Checkovian way, and I struggled to maintain attention. The second half is a gem though, an excellent, very authentic family drama which may well be somewhat autobiographical. James Perkins’ superb period design places the coal fire centre stage and Sophia Simesky’s costumes complete the evocation of the period. Ian Gelder and Sue Wallace give marvellously calibrated performances as the parents, understated until emotions surface. The three siblings are all beautifully judged by Colin Tierney, Sarah Belcher and Connie Walker.

The Orange Tree continues it’s roll, on this occasion with something their traditional audience are welcoming with open arms.

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In just three years, playwright Barney Norris has established himself as a distinctive new voice. His three plays share a warmth and empathy that’s a refreshing contrast to the cynicism and anger of much new writing. He’s the master of ordinariness, and that’s a compliment. His characters are people you know or have met. From dementia to changes in rural life and now to loneliness, he documents the lives of real people in real situations. This couldn’t be more different from the previous night’s play, the uber-cool and uber-cold The Treatment.

Carol lives alone. Her husband is gone and her daughter has gone away. She works in the Electoral Registration Office. She finds Eddie, someone from the past, sleeping rough and offers him a home. She can’t hide her delight in having someone in the house. They reminisce and we learn Eddie has been abroad for eighteen years, before which they were friends, though the full nature of the relationship is unclear. Eddie is a bit of a drifter, a lost soul, with all of his worldly belongings in a few plastic carrier bags. Despite the fact she has a daughter, home and job, Carol is a lost soul too. The arrangement suits them both, but it doesn’t last.

Norris’ writing has a gentle humour, his characters are well drawn and Alice Hamilton brings the same sensitive direction as she did with his previous two plays. Tessa Peace-Jones and Andrew French perform delicately, like they are dancing around one another, with the unsaid communicating almost as much as their speech. I didn’t think it had the depth of the other two plays, partly because it’s only 70 minutes long and partly because it’s a two-hander, but it’s still well worth catching. His plays work particularly well on a small scale in intimate spaces, and it has already been announced that he will have a play in the opening season of Nick Hytner’s new Bridge Theatre – it will be interesting to see something on a much bigger scale.

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Robert Holman must be the least well known prolific playwright of the last forty years. He’s written twenty-four plays, half of which were first produced by august companies and theatres like the RSC, the Royal Court and the Bush, where this 1977 play, his seventh, was first seen. He’s often considered the playwrights playwright. After this, I’ve decided to call him the Guisborough Chekov.

You learn what the title means early on. We’re on that bleak industrial Teeside coastline lined with steel and chemical plants, ships offshore waiting to offload their cargo. Thirty-nine years on, of course, the steelworks is closed and the Wilton petrochemical plant that once employed tens of thousands has been split up and sold off to multiple companies, employing a lot less people. In the middle of this is a birdwatching spot where 59-year-old Martin and twenty-something Jack meet looking for cormorants and oyster catchers.

We learn about Jack’s thwarted ambition (he works at the Wilton chemical plant), where Martin goes for his holidays and about an environmental issue about to threaten the habitat of their beloved birds. We meet Jack’s wife Carol and Martin’s son’s friend Michael. There’s a tragedy offstage. It’s gentle, wistful stuff. I admired the writing. I didn’t quite believe in Jack, but the other characters are well drawn. Director Alice Hamilton has great affinity with plays like this, as she showed with Barney Norris’ The Visitors and Eventide. I liked James Perkins’ clever design. The performances are good. I was under-stimulated and a bit bored, though. For me, it didn’t really go anywhere. It was all a bit dull and unengaging. The Guisborough Chekov.

 

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I loved playwright Barney Norris’ first full-length play The Visitors and worried it might be hard to follow. Fear not. Though it shares the same gentle thoughtfulness and very well drawn characters, this time we’re watching the changes to rural life through three very different lives.

Set in the back garden of the local pub on the eve of its transfer from independent pub to corporate chain, outgoing publican John chews the fat with a regular and a more occasional customer. Regular Mark is reflecting on his unfulfilled life in a break from rebuilding the war memorial on the day of the funeral of the person who crashed into it. Part-time church organist Liz has popped in on her way to the funeral, as she does whenever she’s booked to play. Amongst other things, we learn why landlord John is moving on and why the day is particularly poignant for Mark. One year later, in the second act, they all really have moved on, but they meet up again because of another event, this time a wedding.

Through these personal stories, we see the changes to these communities. The pub is still at the heart of the village, but perhaps without its heart. People travel from elsewhere to work here as they can’t afford to live here anymore. Everyone moves on, but with different degrees of satisfaction and fulfilment. I found it wistful and reflective, beautifully written and sympathetically staged by Alice Hamilton. The three performances are all lovely. James Doherty plays John as a jokey host on the surface, but lets us see the intelligence and sadness beneath. Hasan Dixon shows Mark lacking in the confidence to make the bold decisions facing him, struggling to leave behind the past that he cannot change. Ellie Piercy’s Liz reveals less of herself as she listens and draws out the men with great empathy.

A lovely gentle satisfying evening that proves Barney Norris is no one-play wonder.

 

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