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The Good Samaritan
You just come here, puff yourselves up and go home well pleased with yourselves -- Carol
Carol is talking about the voluntary social workers who man the Samaritans' telephone line, an organisation which people in despair can turn to 24 hours a day.
David Haig's play opens with four volunteers on a shift at a Samaritans' Centre in London. Muriel (Polly Adams) is taking a call from a transvestite called Louise who is coming to terms with his sexuality, Jenny (Victoria Alcock) is listening to a silent call, waiting for the person on the other end to respond. Alan (Julian Wadham) is working his shift alongside his wifeRachel (Jane Gurnett) who is saying goodbye to Peter, an anxious client who has slept the night at the centre. Carol (Claudie Blakley) turns up and tells Alan that her husband was killed in a car crash seven years ago when she was pregnant.
The relationship which forms between the streetwise and attractive but troubled Carol and Alan, a publisher, is at the heart of the play's tension. She becomes a regular at the centre and always insists on seeing Alan, challenging his staid, well-meaning intentions. The Samaritan rules forbid a client seeing the same volunteer in order to avoid developing dependency so eventually Alan and Carol meet in a local park and share a romantic fantasy.
The performances are good. Polly Adams is excellent as the matronly counsellor discussing women's underwear with her transvestite caller. Julian Wadham's Alan is elegant and sincere. Claudie Blakely is a standout as the volatile and confused working class girl.
John Dove's direction allows us to see many different conversations going on at once.
Laurie Dennet's split set provides an effective views of the crowded telephone office and the interview room and the furniture cleverly turns around to become a park bench on Dulwich Common.
The shared romantic fantasy between the two very disparate main chracters makes makes for an interesting play and Haig, who himself worked as a Samaritan for five years, does give a limited insight into the work of the organization. Overall, Haig's characterisations are interesting but I hope that his next playwriting venture (his next project is as an actor in the National Theatre's August revival of Alan Ayckbourn's House and Garden) will have a more adventurous story line.
|THE GOOD SAMARITAN
Written by David Haig
Directed by John Dove
With: Jane Gurnett, Jay Simpson, Julian Wadham, Victoria Alcock, Polly Adams, Claudie Blakley, Daniel Crowder, Debbie Brazenor/Lauren Cornelius
Design: Laurie Dennett
Lighting Design: John Titcombe
Sound Design: John A Leonard for Aura
Running time: Two hours ten minutes with an interval
Hampstead Theatre and The Peter Wolff Theatre Trust
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 12th August 2000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 12th June 2000 performance at Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage, London NW3