Saturday, April 28, 2012



The Mercury Theatre Company and Nottingham Playhouse Company

at the Mercury, Colchester


"The apple don't fall far from the tree." This apple has been living in London, far from her agricultural Norfolk roots, with Ronnie, a young Jewish socialist.
Wesker's play, the heart of his 1950s trilogy, sees her back with her complacent family, waiting to introduce Ronnie to the clan.

Like Russell's Rita, Beatie is a mouthpiece for the playwright's views on working class culture, freedom and self-discovery.

More than half a century on, in these days of cultural relativism, we might see most of these battles as lost, but the play remains a powerful exploration of the family, a simple story skilfully told.

And all credit to Natasha Rickman for making Beatie's famous closing speech much more than a diatribe, a passionate awakening to her true potential as the child who escapes her background, leaving the rural backwater to embrace Art in the big city.

The play is largely about finding a voice of one's own – language building Bridges, conveying Ideas; the Norfolk dialect then an important part of the writing. Varying degrees of authenticity here, with Rickman again having the hardest job, blending Ronnie's rhetoric [a chair for a soapbox] with her obvious local idiom ["she don't change"] as she parrots word for word her family's familiar tales.

Gina Isaac is excellent as a bleak sister, shocked at Beatie's casual talk of love in the afternoon, with Tim Treslove as the good old Norfolk boy her husband. Roger Delves-Broughton, touchingly taciturn, gives a memorable performance as Poppy, the Paterfamilias of the Bryants, puffing away on his pipe, and the third countryman is Adrian Stokes's superb character study of the neighbour, Stan Man, cheerful even as old age catches up with him, too exhausted to speak.
Beatie's mother, struggling to comprehend her daughter's message, enjoying a laugh and a bit of third-rate music, is beautifully done by Linda Broughton; we sense the wordless struggle beneath the habit of years [the buses pass by on the road behind us] as well as enjoying her comic moments.

Jane Linz Roberts's striking set – two kitchens [with sinks] and a parlour, and stylised Norfolk landscape behind – helps the tangible sense of the past, though this is no sentimental nostalgic journey, and evokes a real spirit of place. Andrew Breakwell's lovingly crafted production, compassionate and sympathetic, is not afraid of slow burns and silences: particularly haunting are the end of Act One, with the call of the owl and encroaching dark, the liberating Bizet, and the awkward family gathering, ill-matched chairs hugging the walls, the tick of the clock and the chink of cups accentuating the mute incomprehension which precedes Beatie's big speech.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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