By Neville Thurlbeck
There are three performances of powerful dramatic idiosyncrasy which have managed to sear themselves into the memory.
One is Alison Steadman in Abigail’s Party. The second is Alison Steadman in Nuts in May. The third is Alison Steadman in Here.
It was a bold move of the Rose Theatre in Kingston to attempt to stage this rare dud in Michael Frayn’s canon of work.
It opened at the Donmar in 1993 to disappointing reviews and has been reworked into something more accessible for this rare airing on stage.
Steadman gives a magical tragic-comic performance as Pat as she reflects on the disappointments of life with rueful humour and rejoices that she hasn’t got to endure them all again.
Surrounded by the ghosts of suburbia past, her lower middle class stoicism is a dramatic counterpoint to the young lovers who rent her attic room.
Frayn uses them as one dimensional characters Phil and Cath (played by Alex Beckett and Zawe Ashton) to explore how we construct our lives out of all the millions of possibilities which exist before us.
It is an interesting philosophical concept. But one which doesn’t make for good drama. At times, the tortured logic of Phil’s circumlocution sets one’s teeth on edge.
And the plot and characters are sealed so hermetically, they make Pinter seem like a light hearted soap opera.
We are given no details of their past, their jobs or any part of their lives out of the four walls of the room which acts as a pressure cooker on their failing relationship.
Frayn loves the arguments. And this play is all brain and very little soul.
We therefore ache for Pat’s appearances with her half mast trousers, clumpy sensible shoes, Croydon drawl and blinking bewilderment.
On the page, Frayn’s Here is unreadable. And it takes a skilful director to lift it from the page to the stage, pauses, rhythms and all.
Director Lisa Spirling does the best she can with a very talented cast and Alison Steadman saves the day.
I enjoyed if for Steadman and as a rare opportunity to see a theatrical obscurity, which was good enough for me.
Michael Frayn’s Here is at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, until May 12. More details at rosetheatrekingston.org
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