Directed by Roger Michell
|Courtesy of Tristram Kenton for the Guardian|
Deep in the heart of North London lies the Hampstead Theatre. It is a modern and comfortable space that invites new writing as well as thought provoking plays – Farewell to the Theatre is their current main stage production and their latest success. Richard Nelson’s play unites a group of displaced Englishmen and women in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It is 1916 and while World War One is raging in Europe, we follow Harley Granville Barker (Ben Chaplin), a talented and progressive playwright, director and critic as he struggles to deal with his wife’s refusal to a divorce and his dipping enthusiasm for theatre.
Tara Fitzgerald and Gemma Redgrave, the only two women in the show, give strong yet subtle performances as, respectively, an ex-actress and a widowed owner of the boarding house. However, for me, Jason Watkins’ Frank Spraight was the highlight of the play. His portrayal of a lonely Englishman was at times heartbreaking yet he remained uplifting and spirited, and I was thoroughly impressed with his recital of a large chunk of Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers during the scene change. I would have been oblivious to what was going on behind him had I not been distracted by the perfectly executed set changes. It was done so well I couldn’t ignore it.
This Chekhovian-esque piece is a must for anyone who just enjoys ‘theatre’. Not a lot happens in one hour 40 minutes, we are simply invited to watch as these people carry on with their everyday lives. The ending, a performance of a ‘mummers play’, an English tradition that reunites all the characters, brings with it an unexpected yet pleasing resolution. There is no real weak link in the chain of this impressive play. The actors, story, lights and set are all excellent. It’s one of those plays where if you want it to it will make you think but at the same time, the performances are so brilliant that you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
While the story perhaps refuses to utilize the wholly believable characters to their full potential this just adds to your knowledge that things have been left unsaid or undone. There are places where too little information is given, too little light cast on what is happening, and this is a shame when you consider the fantastic cast brought together in this production.
It is really exciting to see such a simple play performed so brilliantly and I would pay double if not triple the price of my ticket to see this show again.
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Farewell to the Theatre runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 7th April 2012.
Box Office: 020 7733 9301 or book online at http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/page/3031/Farewell+to+the+Theatre/306