The 4th Country
Crypt – The Vaults
Reviewed – 12th February 2020
“An exceptional piece of work. Ambitious in scope and powerful in achievement”
‘Misunderstood, neglected and under-reported, Northern Ireland is just across the water but feels a million miles away’. These are the opening words on the show information laminate in the Crypt, where this show is staged. Appropriately enough, the Crypt is the Vaults stage that feels the furthest away from the main action, reached, as it is, by walking through a large bar, leaving the building altogether, and re-entering. I wonder whether this was deliberate. It wouldn’t surprise me, as this is a meticulous piece of theatre, with an ambitious script in which every word counts.
Writer Kate Reid has grabbed Northern Ireland by the balls, and is fearless in her intent. She addresses the big issues head on – both past and present – from Bloody Sunday, to the abortion law, to the power vacuum in Stormont, but without sacrificing the intimate personal truths which make all great drama lift from the page. Her characters live and breathe, and we care what happens to them. This is in no small part down to the skill of the acting ensemble. Kate Reid acts in the show too, joined by Aoife Kennan, Cormac Ellliot and Rachel Rooney, and there is not a weak link in the chain. This is performing of the highest quality – skilled, muscular, nuanced – and transports the audience into the various worlds of the play on the flip of a coin; all the more skilful when the scenes are presented within a meta-structure which lays the show’s theatricality bare. And what a joy to watch a piece of theatre in which this meta-structure has real purpose, and so brilliantly serves the content!
Gabriella Bird’s direction is perfect in this regard and could so easily be overlooked. It too seamlessly serves the narrative, allowing the actors to move freely through the space in such a way that the audience is continually stimulated but never distracted. This takes a great deal of skill. West End practitioners take note! There was no Sound Designer listed to credit, but the subtle sound design added to the whole, as did Catja Hamilton’s unobtrusive lighting.
The 4th Country is an exceptional piece of work. Ambitious in scope and powerful in achievement. As the two women who left the Crypt in tears last night would testify.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
For Services Rendered
Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 6th September 2019
“A deliciously haunting production from a plucky and dedicated theatre”
It’s late summer, a stifling atmosphere pervades the Kentish home of the Ardsley family, all of whom are in some way affected by the ending of the Great War. Whether by injury, hasty marriage, stagnating economy or the stultifying culture of abandonment dressed up as just getting on with things, each face a future of anxiety and diminishment. Only the youngest, Lois, seems to have escape routes, though none without penalty.
Somerset Maugham’s angry and sullenly anti-war work, premiered in 1932, was not deemed a huge success, despite or because of its scathing lines satirising attitudes to returning combatants. Over time the drama’s unblinking appraisal of human motivations led to more literary critiques and a smattering of recent revivals. Opening the Jermyn Street Theatre’s Memories Season, at a time of when England is again wracked by change and the younger generation must again face shrinking horizons to a chorus of entreaties to be optimistic, it fits like a well-made suit, though modern parallels are thankfully not forced.
The set by Louie Whitemore establishes a world of tennis and tea on the lawn very much as the writer intended and, as the action ensues, Emily Stuart’s beautifully tailored period costumes underline the sense of a moment in time, perfectly preserved. Diane Fletcher as the weary matriarch, Charlotte, portrays with precision the slow acceptance that nothing seems to matter anymore; every glance and micro-expression accumulating dejection.
The four Ardsley children all have different reasons to feel frustrated in their pursuit of a meaningful life and after the interval the masterful writing chillingly depicts how human nature turns venal as a consequence of being starved of options. All performances do their bit for the cause. Richard Keightley is particularly unerring in his performance of the war-blinded, still fragile but chipper Sydney Ardsley, but no character is overplayed, which only makes their suffocating predicament more so. Even the lower class, drunken oaf, Howard played by Burt Caesar restrains his boorishness, slurping beer in noisy measured gulps, advancing on young Lois in the same methodical way, using the sinister wartime logic of enjoying life while you can, alarmingly transposed to peace time. Sally Cheng as Lois, Rachel Pickup as Eva Ardsley and Jotham Annan as Collie Stratton follow suit, politely unravelling their tragic prospects at the same rate with varying degrees of brittle cheerfulness.
Direction by the theatre’s Artistic Director Tom Littler is subtle, possibly unadventurous, but in doing so, he allows the mounting frustration to moulder into angst and finally to a very English version of hysteria, all at an insidiously clockwork pace, marked by distant church clock chimes, refilled whisky and sodas, tea and the dropping apples and rose heads. We feel we are watching England decline before us in real time. A deliciously haunting production from a plucky and dedicated theatre celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Robert Workman
For Services Rendered
Jermyn Street Theatre until 5th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: