Directed by Alex Thorpe
Pros: A well-acted slice of 1960s America. Adam Gillen is wonderful as Lee Harvey Oswald.
Cons: This much yelling and violence in a small space can get overwhelming.
Our Verdict: Interesting, thought-provoking and darkly entertaining.
Lee Harvey Oswald (the full title of which is far too long to write out!), is a well written and well acted look into the murder of US President Kennedy, told through the women in his purported killer’s life as they are interviewed about the series of events leading up to the assassination.
The play is dripping in vintage Americana- the accents are convincing and the clothes are straight out of an episode of Mad Men. As with many other Finborough productions stage is built in the centre of the room with the audience sat on either side, which ensures there are no bad seats. The entirety of the stage (and oddly, the lighting rig too) is covered with carpet squares in a checkerboard effect.
Although the subject matter is very much about the build up to the killing of JFK, this is not a play about the conspiracy theory aspect of Oswald’s history. The program notes tell the audience that, “there is no intended prejudice as to whether he killed Kennedy or not – that sort of enquiry still begs too much speculation to make for an unbiased reading.”
This is not to say, however, that the question of Oswald’s guilt is not brought up at times by both of the two women in Oswald’s life. Marina, his wife, in her initial questioning is shocked that Oswald did it, yet by the second round of questions she has accepted his guilt. His mother initially provides inane and often bizarre evidence to Oswald having been a Russian spy, but then seems quite sure of his innocence in the matter of the shooting. Both women interpret his guilt in the matter as it suits them and, unsurprisingly, turn on each other when the dust starts to settle.
Adam Gillen’s Oswald is excellent. Gillen stays fully in character with every step, every breath and every shout. He’s cruel, paranoid and angry yet childish and vulnerable. His posture, slightly stooped, unable to sit still, twitching and smirking, is unnerving to watch, making the audience suitably uncomfortable. When Lee loses his temper, the audience flinches along with Marina.
The domestic violence is not pleasant to watch, and there is a lot of loud yelling from Gillen. It’s essential to the character, and well done by Gillen, but it does cut you to the core in such a small space. The audience, like Marina, cannot escape the yelling and screaming. It’s hard viewing, but it’s crucial to understanding the backstory of Oswald. He is not an easy contributor to society. He struggles to hold a job, and to engage in normal social contracts. He remains caught between two women – his decidedly overbearing mother, Marguerite and his not quite loving wife Marina, wonderfully acted by Gemma Lawrence.
Although the play is about Oswald, Lawrence as Marina provides some of the most complex subject matter. She comes across as a timid foreigner, out of her depth in America, yet not without her own secrets. We sympathise with her against Lee’s barrages, but she does not appear entirely innocent against some of the charges he makes. It’s also difficult to tell her true intentions throughout the play, and whether her love for Lee is genuine.
It’s a very interesting play with many complexities. You are not meant to come out of it with your mind made up about whether or not Lee did it, but rather to be able to ponder what led an ordinary man to the events of that day. It’s thought-provoking, well-acted and well worth a trip to the always enjoyable Finborough Theatre.
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Lee Harvey Oswald A Far Mean Streak of Independence Brought On By Negleck runs at Finborough Theatre until 22nd November 2013.
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