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Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Toeman’

Playwright Lucy Prebble has given us some excellent plays, most notably ENRON, her second, but isn’t very prolific – she’s only written three plays in the 16 years since this debut, but then again she’s also successful in TV, notably with HBO’s current hit Succession. Her fourth play, A Very Expensive Poison, premiered just four months ago and her third, The Effect, will be revived at the Boulevard Theatre in March, so we’re having a bit of a Prebble Fest. I missed this one first time round, so I was delighted the Orange Tree have revived it.

The play revolves around 17-year-old Dani who lives with her somewhat neurotic mother. Dani’s father works away and plays away too, something they are both fully aware of. She suffers with an eating disorder and has recently returned from a residential clinic which she resents being forced to go to. She frequents internet chat rooms, where she meets two very different people – lonely 22-year-old Lewis, seeking a relationship, and thirty-something paedophile Tim, looking for boys. She meets up with Lewis, and they strike up some sort of relationship. By posing as an 11-year-old boy, she also meets up with Tim and they strike up an even odder relationship, where she becomes a friend and confidante. The two worlds collide when Lewis visits Tim and then her home, and her relationship with her mother is exorcised.

These very sensitive issues are handled really well, in the writing, staging and performances. All of the characters are treated sympathetically, even Tim, delicately played by John Hollingworth. Ali Barouti navigates Lewis’ journey from desperation to obsession beautifully. Alexandra Gilbreath handles the complexity of mother Jan with great skill. Jessica Rhodes’ performance as the very mercurial Dani, onstage virtually throughout, is superb, even more impressive when you realise it’s her professional debut.

Oscar Toeman’s excellent revival benefits from the intimacy of this theatre, but the sunken playing area brings sightline issues, as it did with Pamona at the same venue. This was my only gripe with what was otherwise a thoroughly satisfying evening of theatre.

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I think I was born too late. J B Priestly and Terrence Rattigan are amongst my favourite 20th century playwrights and Ealing comedies amongst my favourite films. I therefore relish any opportunity to catch a J B Priestly play and booked for this rare revival six months ago! It may not be vintage Priestly, but it’s a charming, original (yes!) and thoroughly entertaining piece with a uniformly superb set of performances.

J B Priestly specialised in domesticity with gentle humour and a moral dimension. Here, we’re in suburban north London in the 1930’s where the Redfern’s and their adult daughter have Mrs Redfern’s sister and brother-in-law to stay following their return from a posting in the Far East. George Redfern is in the paper business, his daughter Elsie is about to get engaged, Bernard bangs on about life in the colonies and Lucy is a nag who criticises everything. So far, so suburban.

Imagine the shock when George confesses to his daughter, her new fiancée and the in-laws that he’s a crook. The engagement is off, as are the in-laws. Is this what George wanted? Is it true? Does his wife know? Then, as in his now most famous play, an inspector calls.

Though it’s a touch slow at the start, Oscar Toeman’s production soon becomes a delightful and charming light comedy. The confession is so at odds with what you’ve seen up to that point, it differentiates the play from its contemporaries or indeed much that has followed it. It has that warm feel of an Ealing comedy and, like The Ladykillers, a secret produces a delicious turn of events. Lily Arnold’s 30’s living room set is by necessity sparse, given the lack of space but, together with splendid period costumes, it perfectly captures the time and place.

Whatever you think of the play, you could not resist as fine a set of performances as you’d wish to see. Timothy Speyer is terrific as pompous brother-in-law Bernard as is Lynette Edwards as his righteous and indignant wife. Robert Goodale keeps George deadpan so you’re never sure whether he’s a crook, a joker or cleverly orchestrating events. Karen Ascoe as his wife Dorothy is in the background for much of the first half, but comes into her own after the interval and is masterly at the play’s conclusion.

This was only Priestly’s second play, twelve years before the other inspector called, and you can see the foundations for that later play being laid – all is not what it seems. I’ve never seen the film they made from it and it hasn’t been staged in London in the 30+ years I’ve lived here, so yet again huge congratulations to the Finborough Theatre for uncovering it. Another little gem.

 

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