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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
The plot, like the rest of this production, is contemporary, spirited and attention-grabbing. A disgraced former Tory MP Clifford (Oliver Cotton) is getting remarried to a ditzy glamour model who he met on the set of a reality television show in the jungle. Having converted the notoriety of a shameful exit from politics into minor celebrity status, he is now "a perennial panelist, restaurant critic, visitor to Greek islands, rainforests and, here’s his trade secret, always available".
His two daughters, however, are still deeply affected by the character-deforming episode of their mother’s suicide many years earlier. Abigail (Alicia Witt) is introverted, stammering, afraid to leave the house and although a talented piano player, has locked the piano and refuses to play. Louise (Kelly Reilly) possesses an extreme confidence and disregard for conventional bounds of social behaviour. Forbidden to return to the family household, she nevertheless does so and wilfully causes havoc and disruption. Having coerced her sister to let her in, her first act is to snatch an oil painting from the wall and smash it through the banister, commenting: "Symbolic gesture. Heavy-handed. There’ll be a few more of those because THAT’S THE SORT OF GIRL I AM".
The set shows a palatial country mansion, which could almost be from any period, Victorian to modern-day. The ceiling is as high as the theatre itself and its oak panels extend out into the auditorium.
Terry Johnson’s writing is a delightful blend of sharp wit and exuberant intelligence, but can also dip into the elegiac. Kelly Reilly’s part especially has some amazing speeches, which are super-articulate, often scathing and frequently hilarious. As Johnson both wrote and directed this play, the execution (and in particular the cast) suit his style of writing unerringly.
The cast bring out the best in Terry Johnson’s text. No character escapes being flawed and ambivalent in some way, but all are sympathetic. The part of Louise, in the hands of a less able actor, could easily have been thoroughly obnoxious. Kelly Reilly, however, manages to convey this character’s fragility and loneliness beneath the deliberately unhinged exterior. Alicia Witt portrays great depth of emotion through her stuttering and silence, whilst her piano-playing is magnificently accomplished. Natalie Walter’s Dawn, who spouts clichés every other line, is actually rather endearing as the page three girl turned celebrity bride. Danny Webb is excellent as Ray, a wiry Australian, still emotionally crippled by his sister’s death, and in a distorted sense a surrogate father to Abi and Louise. And finally Oliver Cotton’s Clifford, who speaks always as if pontificating in public, appears somewhat reasonable if culpably blind, after a hideous past.
My only criticism is that this play is slightly messy and perhaps is short of a more meaningful resolution. However, some superb writing and excellent acting and make this a very enjoyable family drama with humour.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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