Either way, there’s no place like it, according to some glittery-shoed girl.
David Storey’s 1970 Tony-nominated play ruminates about the same ideas of belonging, community and identity via five characters displaced from different walks of life and connected by their own existential crises.
The play starts simply enough.
Two dapper gentlemen, Harry and Jack, are chatting in a park, enjoying the sunshine and complimenting each other’s sartorial efforts.
At first the banality of their conversation had me itching to check my watch: never a good sign 10 minutes in.
But every time Jack mentioned another member of his impossibly large family tree to shoehorn into an increasingly bizarre anecdote – such as an aunt who may or may not have lived in the Garden of Eden – the play began to morph into something more surreal and interesting.
What was going on here?
And why did the pair know so many people wandering around the park?
With the introduction of the earthier Marjorie and Kathleen – who is donned in a hospital gown – the pieces of the puzzle fell into place: they are in a mental hospital facility.
The clever use of costume landed the twist brilliantly, and highlighted the apparent class divides between the men and women which provided most of the humour and drove the plot.
While Harry and Jack proved to be unreliable narrators, avoiding their feelings, Kathleen and Marjorie cut through the airs and graces to prod at their pasts, hoping to dislodge a few secrets.
The key players should be commended – particularly Hayley Carmichael who finds the heart and depth in the sexually-driven Kathleen, and John Mackay’s dithering Jack (who was oddly reminiscent of Mark Gatiss in BBC black comedy Nighty Night, even down to the accent).
But the inclusion of side character Alfred, whose main purpose seemed to be to clear the set, felt unrealised – a sensation which grew as the play neared its conclusion.
As Jack and Harry’s gentlemanly veneer cracked, the stage was set for the truth to finally come pouring out.
But instead of an explosive finale, I was handed an anticlimax as the play ended as it began – an odyssey that was completed too soon, teasing insights into the characters which were never fully revealed.
A well-executed and often entertaining production which was undermined by its source material.
Until Saturday, November 6.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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