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Port, National Theatre

Simon Stephens
Directed by Marianne Elliott

Pros: A brilliantly acted performance of a gritty, interesting and rather excellent script, complete with a refreshingly optimistic ending.

Cons: Very few. It dragged a tiny bit in the middle, but this is a show which very narrowly missed out on the fifth star!

Our Verdict: A tip-top show from the National, and one of my favourite Lyttelton productions to date. No excuses to miss it – there are plenty of £12 tickets available!

Courtesy of The National Theatre

For obvious reasons, there have been quite a lot of plays on in the last couple of years about economic doom and gloom and its impact. Naturally, they’re depressing, probably because they do resonate so strongly with the audience of today. I thought the National’s latest offering was going to be one of those shows; the website describes it as being set in the ‘deprived suburban shadows of Manchester’ for example. However, I was wrong. Sort of. It is set in a deprived suburb, it is fundamentally about a family breakdown, and parts of it are brutal and depressing. Above all that though, Port is about one young woman’s unbreakable human spirit, her refusal to be beaten by the ruthless system we live in, and her triumph against the odds. This refreshing twist on a tale we’ve all heard variations of before is what makes it an excellent and hugely important production.

The story follows the character development of Racheal. When she is eleven, her mother walks out on her and her six-year old brother Billy, fed up of their father’s drunken behaviour. Over the next few years, Racheal’s family gradually falls apart; her beloved brother Billy turns to a life of crime, their father is unable to support them in any meaningful way, and then her grandfather, her unshakeable source of support through all of this, dies suddenly. But Racheal refuses to be beaten, and time and time again she picks herself up and presses on, desperately searching for a better life.

This powerful story is brought to life vividly in Marianne Elliott’s gritty production. Lizzie Clachan’s set is a typically excellent National Theatre design – it comes up from the floor, flies in from the roof and rolls on from the wings in stylish fashion. It also adapts to each location perfectly. In one indoor setting, rain runs down the outside of the windows; it is this kind of attention to detail that makes the design so effective in enhancing the mood and atmosphere on stage. The costumes are excellent as well – it’s a challenge to make an actress look eleven years old in one scene, and then twenty-odd in the next, but you really do feel like you’re watching Racheal grow-up, so effective are her costume changes. All in all, this is a pretty flawless show from start to finish in terms of production values.

The show belongs to two people: author Simon Stephens and Kate O’Flynn, who plays Racheal. Stephens’ script is engaging and powerful and you’ll find yourself on Racheal’s side, willing her to carry on despite every set-back. What’s really special though is the ending, which really does make you feel optimistic (even if it is just for a brief moment, until you get back on the train!). Kate O’Flynn’s portrayal is outstanding, and it is her sterling work as the protagonist which grips you from start to finish. It’s a challenging role, not just because she’s on stage for the best part of the whole two hour thirty minute show, but also because of the changing age and circumstances of the character, who effectively goes through every type of trauma, from the death of her grandfather, to the concern for her troublesome brother, to the physical and mental abuse by her first husband. O’Flynn truly rises to this challenge though and delivers an absolutely tremendous performance, carrying the show from start to finish.

So all-in-all, this is a stellar production from the National. I came very close to giving it five stars, but it dragged a bit in the middle and I wouldn’t necessarily class it as ground-breaking; it’s just very, very good. So get your tickets, and don’t worry too much about the cost – there are plenty of £12 tickets available, so you really don’t have any excuses not to see it!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Port runs at the National Theatre until 24th March 2013.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 or book online at http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/port/

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